Joe Biden is ‘a warm, affectionate person,’ Susan Collins says
NEW YORK — It’s simply a “human touch.” He’s a “warm, affectionate person.” ”He hugs everybody.”
In the days since allegations surfaced of uninvited touching on the part of Joe Biden, several women in politics and beyond have been coming to his defense, vouching for his character and saying it was merely his old-fashioned tactile style at issue — nothing intentional, and certainly nothing sexual.
On Wednesday night, The Washington Post reported that three additional women had recounted uncomfortable encounters with Biden. One of them, Vail Kohnert-Yount, said she was a White House intern in the spring of 2013 when she met Biden in the West Wing and that, as they chatted, he put his hand on the back of her head and pressed his forehead to hers and called her a “pretty girl.”
For Biden, of course, the stakes are huge: He’s deciding whether to jump into the crowded field for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination — a field that includes a half-dozen women.
The statement, his second, came as some prominent women and longtime allies came to Biden’s defense, none more passionately than former Sen. Jean Carnahan of Missouri. In a series of tweets, she noted Biden’s “human touch” and praised the way he consoled her after she lost her husband and son.
“It was his empathy and encouragement … that gave me strength to meet each day,” Carnahan, a Democrat, wrote. “Yes, I sometimes got a shoulder pat or even a head kiss. Joe has a deep desire to share in the lives of others.”
Across the aisle, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine called Biden “just a warm, affectionate person.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while bluntly counseling him to change his behavior and “pretend you have a cold,” said she did not see his behavior as disqualifying him for a presidential run.
Beyond politics, Gloria Steinem also had understanding words for Biden, saying in an email to The Associated Press that “I think women are more than smart enough to know that a) Joe Biden is who he is and hugs everybody, b) this was minor compared to most sexual harassment.” But the feminist leader immediately added: “We all need to get to a place where bodies are private property and not to be touched without permission.”
In his statement, the 76-year-old Biden said he understands the changing “social norms,” seeking to ease concerns about whether he is up to adapting to a new era, where what was once considered by some to be charming — a quick compliment on a woman’s appearance or a flirtatious hug — is now seen as boundary crossing. Biden’s initial comments, insisting that he never knew his behavior was making women uncomfortable, were in themselves troubling to some women.
“I keep hearing, ‘Well, he’s an older man and it’s a generational thing,’” said Walsh at Rutgers. “But one of the issues he’s going to be confronting as a candidate is a generational question. This may, in fact, point out the generational difference of how he sees women and the way he behaves himself around women.”
Intentions, she said, are not the point. “It’s not OK to demean and invade women’s space,” she said. “It’s totally offensive and inappropriate.” Kelber said she’s proud of younger women for sounding the alert about Biden’s physical behavior.
But the debate didn’t split neatly on generational lines.
“I feel saddened that people are jumping on this issue just to find dirt,” said Rachel Corson, 19. “Someone who is very highly respected in government who might have made a mistake and wasn’t clear with his communication … I find it disheartening that we are looking for something he did wrong.”
Complicating the debate was the question of a political double standard, given longstanding accusations of sexual misconduct against President Donald Trump and his famous boast, on tape, about groping women.
Trump was asked Wednesday whether Biden should apologize for the ways he has interacted with women, and he replied, “No, he’s going to make his own decisions. He’s very capable of making a decision, I assume.”
Some feminist advocates have preferred not to comment on the Biden issue because of that perceived double standard, not wanting to criticize either the women expressing discomfort or Biden himself.
Corson, the college student, said she thinks there could be a silver lining to the episode; women may feel bolder about speaking up in situations that perhaps don’t rise to the level of harassment but need to be aired nonetheless.
“Feeling uncomfortable is never OK,” she said. “This may open a window for more people who aren’t in the public eye to say, ‘Yeah, that happened to me. I felt uncomfortable, and I think it was wrong.’”
This article originally appeared on www.bangordailynews.com.