Tuesday the NY Times published an article titled “Biden’s Tactile Politics Threaten His Return in the #MeToo Era.” The article opens with a summary of the story so far, but it also includes statements from two more women who say their encounters with Biden left them feeling uncomfortable.
The list of women coming forward is growing. Caitlyn Caruso, a former college student and sexual assault survivor, said Mr. Biden rested his hand on her thigh — even as she squirmed in her seat to show her discomfort — and hugged her “just a little bit too long” at an event on sexual assault at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. She was 19.
Ms. Caruso, now 22, said she chalked up the encounter at the time to how men act, and did not say anything publicly. But she said it was particularly uncomfortable because she had just shared her own story of sexual assault and had expected Mr. Biden — an architect of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act — to understand the importance of physical boundaries.
“It doesn’t even really cross your mind that such a person would dare perpetuate harm like that,” she said. “These are supposed to be people you can trust.”
D. J. Hill, 59, a writer who recalled meeting Mr. Biden in 2012 at a fund-raising event in Minneapolis, said that when she and her husband, Robert, stepped up to take their photograph with the vice president, he put his hand on her shoulder and then started dropping it down her back, which made her “very uncomfortable.”
Her husband, seeing the movement, put his hand on Mr. Biden’s shoulder and interrupted with a joke. Ms. Hill did not say anything at the time and acknowledged that she does not know what Mr. Biden’s intention was or whether he was aware of her discomfit.
As the article points out, Biden has female defenders on both sides of the aisle. Stephanie Carter, wife of Ash Carter has said she felt Biden’s touching of her shoulders was his way of expressing support. She claims a photo of her looking uncomfortable was a single frame taken from a video which mischaracterizes the incident. Meghan McCain has also praised Biden:
Joe Biden is one of the truly decent and compassionate men in all of American politics. He has helped me through my fathers diagnosis, treatment and ultimate passing more than anyone of my fathers friends combined. I wish there was more empathy from our politicians not less.
— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) April 2, 2019
Clearly, people close to him think Biden can be a warm person. But the fact that his friends find his empathy and physical touch a positive does not mean that relative strangers like Lucy Flores or Caitlyn Caruso necessarily feel the same way. Biden’s intent may be to offer grandfatherly encouragement, but he’s not every woman’s grandfather. By acting as if he is, he’s crossing a line with people he does not know. So far, four of those people have come forward but I have no doubt there are more who haven’t spoken up yet. Biden has been doing this a long time.
In other #MeToo stories we’ve seen women come forward in response to men denying responsibility for their actions. So far Biden hasn’t done that. He says he’s listening. But for his campaign to move forward, he has to try to put this behind him. That’s going to be the moment of maximum danger. If Biden says anything that seems to be denying responsibility, I think the floodgates will open. He’s going to have to handle this very deftly to avoid a steady stream of new allegations.