Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., under pressure to respond to allegations that he touched and kissed a former Nevada assemblywoman, Lucy Flores, went on the defensive Sunday morning with a sweeping statement saying he did not believe he acted inappropriately but acknowledging that he had made “expressions of affection” during his years on the campaign trail.
In his statement, he emphasized that “not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately,” but pledged to listen to any accuser. He did not describe in detail the “expressions of affection,” but said there were also “countless handshakes, hugs” and attempts to “support and comfort” people he met.
“I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear,” Mr. Biden said. “But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will.”
Mr. Biden, who is expected to announce in April whether he will join the 2020 Democratic primary field, issued his statement two days after an essay by Ms. Flores was published on Friday in New York Magazine’s The Cut. Ms. Flores, a Democrat, said she was 35 at the time of her encounter with Mr. Biden, who was then vice president.
Mr. Biden, she wrote, had come to a rally to help her fledgling campaign for lieutenant governor of Nevada and had come up behind her, touched her and planted “a big slow kiss” on the back of her head.
Ms. Flores, responding on Sunday morning to Mr. Biden’s statement, said she was glad the former vice president was willing to listen and clarify his intentions. But she said she found it hard to believe that Mr. Biden could not have been aware of how he made her and other women feel, saying there was “a little bit of a disconnect.”
“It is completely inappropriate ” Ms. Flores said on CNN about Mr. Biden’s behavior with women. “And this is something that we should consider when we’re talking about the background of a person who is considering running for president.”
“For me it’s disqualifying,” she added. “I think it’s up to everybody else to make that decision.”
The allegations by Ms. Flores, and a statement on Saturday from a Biden spokesman and the new one on Sunday from Mr. Biden himself, represent a high-profile convergence of politics and the evolving societal norms of behavior and accountability in the #MeToo era, playing out against the backdrop of a presidential primary in which Mr. Biden — though not yet declared — is leading in several early polls.
Democratic presidential candidates weighed in on Sunday morning, indicating that they believed Ms. Flores’s allegations but remaining circumspect about the potential political fallout for Mr. Biden.
“I have no reason not to believe Lucy,” Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said on says on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Asked if allegations should disqualify Mr. Biden from running for president, Mr. Sanders said: “I think that’s a decision for the vice president to make. I’m not sure that one incident alone disqualifies anybody.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, stepped delicately around questions about Mr. Biden during an interview on the ABC program “This Week.”
“We know from campaigns and from politics that people raise issues and they have to address them, and that’s what he will have to do with the voters if he gets into the race,” Ms. Klobuchar said, while adding that she has “no reason not to believe”…