Today, three more women told the Washington Post that former Vice President Joe Biden touched them in a way that made them feel uncomfortable. These new allegations put the total number of women who have come forward at seven. One of these women is a sexual assault survivor who met Biden in her role as an activist, the second such woman to speak about about their interactions with him.
In response, Biden has issued a statement about the allegations and posted a video saying he will work on changing his behavior, but he still hasn’t directly apologized.
“Social norms have begun to change, they’ve shifted, and the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset and I get it,” Biden said in his video, posted Wednesday. “I get it. I hear what they’re saying. I understand it, and I’ll be much more mindful. That’s my responsibility...and I’ll meet it.”
It’s widely assumed that Biden will run for president in 2020. According to the Post, Biden advisors are calling supporters to assure them he’s still planning on running, and believe that his video made a strong impact. It’s likely that Biden will announce his candidacy in late April.
But the stories are still coming.
Vail Kohnert-Yount, a former White House intern, told the Post that in 2013, she was exiting the basement of the West Wing when she was told to step aside to make way for Biden to enter. She waited for the then-Vice President to enter the room, who then introduced himself.
“He then put his hand on the back of my head and pressed his forehead to my forehead while he talked to me. I was so shocked that it was hard to focus on what he was saying. I remember he told me I was a ‘pretty girl,’ ” Kohnert-Yount told the Post.
Kohnert-Yount says she felt uncomfortable “even though it was intended as a compliment.”
“I do not consider my experience to have been sexual assault or harassment,” she added, clarifying that she doesn’t believe Biden had any ill intentions. “But it was the kind of inappropriate behavior that makes many women feel uncomfortable and unequal in the workplace.”
In response to the video Biden posted earlier today, in which he said he will change his behavior, Kohnert-Yount emailed the Post.
“I appreciate his attempt to do better in the future, but to me this is not mainly about whether Joe Biden has adequate respect for personal space. It’s about women deserving equal respect in the workplace,” she wrote.
Sofie Karasek was one of 51 sexual assault survivors who appeared on stage with Lady Gaga at the 2016 Oscars. Biden introduced the performance. After the show, she says Biden introduced himself, and she told him about a college student who had committed suicide in the wake of a sexual assault.
“Biden responded by clasping her hands and leaning down to place his forehead against hers, a moment captured in a widely circulated photograph,” the Post writes.
Karasek says she both appreciated the support and felt awkward and uncomfortable at Biden’s touch. “She said she did not know how to respond to, as she described it, Biden crossing the boundary into her personal space at a sensitive moment,” the Post writes. She initially printed out a photo of the encounter and put it on her wall, but took it down later, as the #MeToo movement progressed and she thought about the encounter more critically.
Karasek says believes that Biden has yet to “take ownership” of his actions “the way he needs to.”
“He emphasized that he wants to connect with people and, of course, that’s important. But again, all of our interactions and friendships are a two-way street... Too often it doesn’t matter how the woman feels about it or they just assume that they’re fine with it,” she told the Post.
Ally Coll was a young Democratic staffer running a reception in 2008 when she met Biden. She told the Post that Biden squeezed her shoulders, leaned in close to her, and complimented her smile, lingering “for a beat too long.”
Coll now runs a group called the Purple Campaign, which fights sexual harassment. She says that Biden’s behavior was inappropriate.
“There’s been a lack of understanding about the way that power can turn something that might seem innocuous into something that can make somebody feel uncomfortable,” Coll told the Post.
She wasn’t impressed by Biden’s video, which she said showed “a continued lack of understanding about why these stories are being told and their relevance in the #MeToo era.”
This avalanche of allegations and handwringing over Biden’s interpersonal style began when former candidate for Nevada Lieutenant Governor, Lucy Flores, wrote in New York magazine that Biden had touched her and kissed her head in a way that made her uncomfortable at a campaign event in 2014.
As these stories come out, prominent Democrats and supporters continue to defend Biden. Tonight, the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, tweeted a photo of her with Biden’s forehead pressed against her own.
“Everyone’s experience is their own. As for mine, I found my introduction and interaction with @JoeBiden to be genuine and endearing,” she wrote.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who initially was supportive of Biden, has said that she believes he needs to listen to the women who are making allegations.
“To say, ‘I’m sorry that you were offended’ is not an apology,” Pelosi told reporters earlier this week. “That’s not accepting the fact that people think differently about communication, whether it’s a handshake, a hug... He has to understand in the world that we’re in now that people’s space is important to them, and what’s important is how they receive it, not necessarily how you intended it.”