STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Just as he considers running for president, Joe Biden faces criticism of his not-so-distant past. As vice president in 2014, Biden traveled to Nevada. He spoke for a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. And that candidate, Lucy Flores, is now describing what Biden did backstage.
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LUCY FLORES: I just, all of a sudden, feel him get up really close to me. And then he, like, inhales and proceeds to plant this long kiss on the top of my head. And, you know, the entire time I'm just kind of like, what is happening? Why is the vice president of the United States kissing me right now?
INSKEEP: Flores was talking with Korva Coleman on NPR's All Things Considered. Now Biden has responded with a statement. Without specifically denying the allegation, he said that women can and should describe their experiences, but he does not believe that he has acted inappropriately. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith tells us that Flores did not label the act harassment or assault but did say she was made uneasy.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: She says that whether it was an innocent gesture or whether it was a sexual gesture, none of that matters, that it's - that the person on the receiving end of it, if they believe it's inappropriate - which she does - then that's what matters.
INSKEEP: Does the timing matter here at all? By which I mean, well, it was five years ago, and the attention on this kind of behavior was a little different than it is now.
KEITH: Absolutely. The Me Too movement has since happened, and that is absolutely a big change. And also, though, there's other timing. Joe Biden is in the process of deciding whether he will run for president. He is very far along in the process of deciding whether to announce he'll run for president. Flores says that she's bringing this forward now because, you know, there have been Joe being Joe accusations in the past, and she feels that it needs to be taken seriously. And she doesn't think that he should run for president.
Biden, in his defense, says - let me read part of his statement - more of his statement. He says, in my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once did I ever believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully because it was never my intention.
INSKEEP: It's noteworthy the Lucy Flores would say, it's time to take this kind of behavior seriously, because I suppose we should - I mean, Joe Biden's behavior has been known and noted and talked about and, in a literal way, not taken seriously because it's - you see - you would see clips of him embracing people on comedy shows. It was something that was played for laughs.
KEITH: Right. And one interesting thing that's come out of this - one of those clips or one of those still frames was of the vice president rubbing the shoulders of the wife of the defense secretary, Ash Carter. Stephanie Carter is her name. And she posted something on Medium yesterday, talking about that moment and saying that it was not an uncomfortable moment for her and she's tired of these pictures popping up - that for her, it was just a good friend giving her comfort on a difficult day.
INSKEEP: There's this one still photo where she looks like she's uncomfortable. And she says she wasn't uncomfortable at all. Very briefly, how uncomfortable are the various presidential campaigns in dealing with this kind of issue?
KEITH: Oh, almost every single campaign has something. Bernie Sanders had issues on his 2016 campaign. Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris have aides that have been accused of sexual harassment. This is a conversation that is happening in this campaign in a way that it hasn't happened in the past.
INSKEEP: NPR's Tamara Keith, thanks so much.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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