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'He gave me permission': Joe Biden jokes about hugging in first speech since new accusations

The former US vice president said he was “very close” to revealing his 2020 plans.

Biden at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers construction and maintenance conference in Washington, DC.
Biden at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers construction and maintenance conference in Washington, DC.
Image: UPI/PA Images

FORMER US VICE president Joe Biden, who signalled today he was on the cusp of announcing a presidential bid, brushed off allegations of inappropriate conduct with women by joking about hugging in his first public appearance since the accusations broke.

Biden said he was “very close” to revealing his 2020 plans, and that he and his team were busy “putting everything together.”

But the will-he-or-won’t-he campaign game by the 76-year-old, who is his party’s frontrunner in opinion polls despite not officially joining the race, has been clouded by allegations about his behaviour with women.

Over the past week, Biden has faced allegations of inappropriately touching women or making them feel uncomfortable with his affection.

That was “never my intention,” he said at an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers conference in Washington.

He added that while he “wouldn’t be surprised” if more women came forward with similar claims, “I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of people contact me – who I don’t know – and say the exact opposite.”

But while he sought to move past the controversy, the veteran Delaware politician made an awkward joke about the situation.

After embracing the union’s president, Lonnie Stephenson, Biden turned to the crowd and said:

I just want you to know I had permission to hug Lonnie.

The overwhelmingly male audience laughed.

Further into his speech, he brought young children onstage and repeated a similar joke.

“By the way, he gave me permission to touch him,” Biden joked after putting his arm around a young boy before adding:

“Everyone knows I like kids more than people.”

 No outright apology 

Biden has said that in his constant effort to make “a human connection,” he shakes hands, hugs voters, and sometimes grasps their shoulders in moments of compassion or goodwill.

That behaviour has sparked criticism from his own party, and its increasingly diverse base, with some saying he is out of step with changing social norms, particularly as the #MeToo movement targeting sexual harassment takes root.

Despite the perhaps ill-judged banter, Biden addressed the concerns about his behaviour head-on, saying he would likely adjust how he campaigns if he does enter the race.

But he stopped short of an outright apology to those who have found fault with his actions.

“I’m sorry I didn’t understand more,” Biden told reporters.

I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I’m not sorry for anything that I’ve ever done. I’ve never been disrespectful intentionally, to a man or a woman.

‘Threat to himself’ 

On Wednesday, Biden released a video in which he pledged to “be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future.”

President Donald Trump, who himself has faced accusations of sexual misconduct, was quick to mock Biden on Twitter, dismissing him as a potential challenger in 2020.

Tweet by @Donald J. Trump Source: Donald J. Trump/Twitter

“I don’t see Joe Biden as a threat,” Trump told reporters Friday. “I think he’s only a threat to himself.”

Trump later posted what appeared to be a goading tweet just as the Democrat concluded his speech.

“I’ve employed thousands of Electrical Workers. They will be voting for me!” Trump tweeted.

In his address, Biden stressed his traditional themes of solidarity, union strength and his family’s blue-collar roots.

“This country was not built by Wall Street bankers, and CEOs and hedge fund managers,” Biden said. 

“It was built by the great American middle class,” and the group that forged the country’s middle class was “unions,” he added.

Biden’s tactile politics are not the only concern raised by his decades of experience in public life.

He faces renewed focus on how he, as chairman of a Senate committee, handled the 1991 hearings featuring Anita Hill, a former aide to then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, whom she accused of sexual harassment.

Biden is also under scrutiny for supporting 1990s tough-on-crime legislation that helped create a mass incarceration crisis that disproportionately affected black Americans.

“He’s been there a long time – his record is not good,” Trump said. 

 © AFP 2019  

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