In a two-minute video posted to Twitter on Wednesday, Joe Biden responded to the criticism that he’s overstepped boundaries and acted inappropriately with women who have come into his orbit. The debate was touched off last week when Lucy Flores, a former Nevada assemblywoman, wrote an essay recounting an uncomfortable experience in which Biden reportedly smelled her hair before planting a “big slow kiss” on the back of her head. Since then, at least three other women have spoken about being made to feel similarly uncomfortable by Biden at political events.
“It’s just who I am,” the former vice president and presumptive candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2020 said in the video, in which he indicated that he could be jumping in the ring as soon as this month. He did not apologize to the women who came forward, but promised to be more “mindful and respectful” of others’ personal space in the future.
Social norms are changing. I understand that, and I’ve heard what these women are saying. Politics to me has always been about making connections, but I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future. That’s my responsibility and I will meet it. pic.twitter.com/Ya2mf5ODts
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) April 3, 2019
The video did not differ substantially from the statement Biden released the day after Flores’ essay was published, but it was a significantly different in tone from the follow-up, in which Biden’s team had dismissed the accounts as “smears and forgeries” that “right wing trolls and others continue to exploit… for their own gain.” (In the meantime, a number of high-profile female supporters have spoken out in Biden’s defense, including Susan Rice, Alyssa Milano, Meghan McCain, as well as a least one former staffer and ex-colleague.)
In a nod to a possible announcement of his candidacy, Biden began video saying, “Folks, in the coming month, I expect to be talking with you about a lot of issues.” He continued, speaking broadly: “In my career, I’ve always tried to make a human connection. That’s my responsibility, I think. I shake hands, I hug people, I grab men and women by the shoulders, say ‘You can do this.’ And whether they’re men, women, young, old, it’s the way I’ve always been, it’s the way I’ve tried to show I care about them and I’m listening.”
He appeared to invoked his own personal tragedies — he lost his first wife and daughter in a car accident in 1972, and a son to a brain tumor in 2015 — by way of explanation. ”Over the years, knowing what I’ve been through, the things that I’ve faced, the scores if not hundreds of people have come up to me and reached out for solace and comfort — something, something, anything, that may help them get through the tragedy they’re going through.”
“It’s just who I am,” Biden said, shrugging. “I’ve never thought of politics as cold and antiseptic. I’ve always thought [of] it [as] about connecting with people.”
He went on to acknowledge that, in our present moment, the expectations around human interaction are evolving.
“Social norms have begun to change, they’ve shifted and the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset and I get it — I get it, I hear what they’re saying, I understand it — and I’ll be much more mindful. That’s my responsibility, my responsibility. And I’ll meet it. But I’ll always believe that governing, and life, for that matter, is about connecting. Connecting with people. That won’t change. But I will be more mindful and respectful of people’s personal space. And that’s a good thing. That’s a good thing. I’ve worked my whole life to empower women. I’ve worked my whole life to prevent abuse, so the idea that I can’t adjust to the fact that personal space is important — more important than it’s ever been is just not thinkable. I will. I will.”