At a campaign event in Henderson, Nevada Tuesday, one of Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden’s supporters made clear that she would not have a problem with him invading her personal space as several woman have accused him of doing.
In a moment caught on camera and pushed out on Twitter by NBC News’ reporter Mike Memoli, one of the rally attendees, who identified herself to NBC News afterwards as Libby Peterson, yelled out an emphatically non-#MeToo statement to Biden.
“You can hug and kiss me anytime, Joe!” Peterson shouted.
The audience erupted, while Biden nervously made the sign of the cross in mock repentance, prompting even more laughs.
“That’s very nice, thank you,” Biden said eventually.
As Memoli notes, the moment occurred just a few miles from the much-reported encounter between the then-vice president and Nevada’s Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, Lucy Flores, back in the 2014. It was Flores’ accusation that opened the floodgates on “unwanted touching” allegations against Biden. In an account published by The Cut on March 29, Flores detailed her encounter with Biden at a rally in 2014 that “changed how I saw Joe Biden”:
I found my way to the holding room for the speakers, where everyone was chatting, taking photos, and getting ready to speak to the hundreds of voters in the audience. Just before the speeches, we were ushered to the side of the stage where we were lined up by order of introduction. As I was taking deep breaths and preparing myself to make my case to the crowd, I felt two hands on my shoulders. I froze. “Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?”
I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified. I thought to myself, “I didn’t wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it. And also, what in the actual fuck? Why is the vice-president of the United States smelling my hair?” He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused. There is a Spanish saying, “tragame tierra,” it means, “earth, swallow me whole.” I couldn’t move and I couldn’t say anything. I wanted nothing more than to get Biden away from me.
Over the next few weeks, several other women came forward with similar accounts. Amid mounting pressure from fellow Democrats, Biden finally responded in a video statement defending his past actions as being well-intentioned attempts to make a “human connection” with people, but pledging to change his behavior amid shifting “social norms.”
“I’ve never thought of politics as cold and antiseptic; I’ve always thought about connecting with people. As I said, shaking hands, hands on the shoulder, a hug, encouragement,” he said. “Now it’s all about taking selfies together; 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 just days after releasing the video, Biden stirred up more outrage by joking twice about the accusations at a campaign event hosted by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Similar to the response in Henderson, the jokes got a big response from the crowd. Here’s the first moment, when Biden told the audience that he got “permission” in advance to hug IBEW President Lonnie Stephenson:
Biden repeated the joke later in the event after introducing a group of children to the stage. When he put his arm around one of the young boys, Biden quipped, “By the way, he gave me permission to touch him.”
NBC notes that at the Henderson event Tuesday, the “hug and kiss me” comment wasn’t the only thing yelled out by one of the attendees. Another person reportedly yelled, “Trump is Hitler! Get rid of Hitler! Come on, Joe!”
Biden responded by declaring, “I’m not gonna stoop down to his level,” and accusing Trump of having “deliberately attempted to divide this nation.”