Likely presidential candidate Joe Biden has been accused of odd, unprofessional behavior around women so many times that he’s earned a reputation as America’s creepy uncle. And on March 29, former Nevada assemblywoman Lucy Flores added yet another story to the canon about a time Uncle Joe just couldn’t seem to remember that he was at work and not a cuddle party.
In an essay published to New York Magazine’s The Cut, Flores accuses Biden of creeping up behind her, smelling her hair, and planting an incredibly strange kiss on her just before she was set to give an important speech on the campaign trail for lieutenant governor of Nevada in 2014:
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.
As Flores notes, these types of stories about Biden are common. Maybe a little too common given the fact that Biden presents himself as an outspoken advocate for ending violence against women, though the way he and his colleagues treated Anita Hill casts a shadow on that presentation. Flores writes that she understands the incident “doesn’t rise to the level of what most people consider sexual assault,” but her essay also brings up an incredibly important question: What do we do about behavior that isn’t assault but is gendered, unprofessional, and ultimately unsettling?
After all, how many families just tolerate or keep their young children away from the creepy uncle without ever acknowledging that there should be zero tolerance for a man who persistently invades others’ personal space and makes people feel uneasy and gross? In this case, it shows a lack of empathy for the women and young girls whose space he is invading, and ignores the power imbalance that exists between Biden and the women he chooses to get cozy with.
Biden’s team has responded to the essay by saying that he has no recollection of smelling Flores’s hair and kissing her head or throwing her off her game while she was on the job and about to deliver an incredibly important speech:
“Vice President Biden was pleased to support Lucy Flores’s candidacy for Lieutenant Governor of Nevada in 2014 and to speak on her behalf at a well-attended public event,” Bill Russo, a spokesperson for Biden said. “Neither then, nor in the years since, did he or the staff with him at the time have an inkling that Ms. Flores had been at any time uncomfortable, nor do they recall what she describes.”
Flores accurately pointed out to The Daily Beast that Biden probably doesn’t remember because he pulls this shit all the time:
“My first reaction in reading it is he probably is telling the truth,” she said. “He probably doesn’t remember the interaction. I would argue that he is so used to behaving in that way that it is no big deal.”