In his first public appearance since facing allegations from seven women who say he touched them in unwelcome ways, former Vice President Joe Biden hugged a union president — and made a joke about it.
“I just want you to know, I had permission to hug Lonnie,” Biden said after being introduced by International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers president Lonnie Stephenson (a man) at the union’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., on Friday.
Later Biden hugged a boy who was brought on stage to meet him.
“By the way, he gave me permission to touch him,” Biden said.
Speaking to reporters outside the conference following his speech, Biden addressed the allegations against him.
“I literally think it is incumbent upon me, I think everybody else, to make sure that if you embrace someone, you touch someone, it is with their consent, regardless of your intentions,” he said.
Biden also said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if more women came forward with allegations against him, but that he’s had “hundreds and hundreds” of people contact him to “say the exact opposite.”
The 76-year-old said the complaints will change the way he campaigns.
“It is important that I and everyone else is aware that any woman or man who feels uncomfortable should have the right to say, ‘Hey, I’m uncomfortable with that,’” he said, adding: “I’m sorry I didn’t understand more. I’m not sorry for any of my intentions.”
Lucy Flores, the former Nevada state representative who accused him of kissing the back of her head, responded on Twitter.
"It’s clear [he] hasn’t reflected at all on how his inappropriate and unsolicited touching made women feel uncomfortable," Flores tweeted. "To make light of something as serious as consent degrades the conversation women everywhere are courageously trying to have."
In a video posted to Twitter Wednesday, Biden addressed claims by four women who described actions ranging from a kiss on the back of the head to a hand resting on a thigh for too long.
“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. “I get it. I hear what they’re saying. I understand it, and I’ll be much more mindful, that’s my responsibility.”
On Wednesday night, three more women came forward with similar allegations. Videos and photos of Biden touching women in public have been circulating for years, causing some to question whether he should embark on his expected run for president.
On Thursday, President Trump shared a crude video on Twitter that mocked Biden’s video statement.
“WELCOME BACK JOE!” Trump tweeted along with a doctored video showing Biden “massaging” his own shoulders.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump faced allegations from more than a dozen women who said he had touched them inappropriately in incidents dating back to the early 1970s.
Biden dismissed Trump’s taunting tweet.
“Everybody knows who Donald Trump is,” he told reporters Friday. “I don’t have to say anything more.”
Biden was also asked about his all-but-certain potential presidential bid. “I’m told by the lawyers that I’ve got to be careful with what I say so I don’t start a clock ticking and change my status,” he replied. “But I am very close to making a decision to stand before you all relatively soon.”
He added: “My intention from the beginning if I were to run was to be the last person to announce. And so, give everybody else their day, and then I get a shot and then off to the races.”
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