Second woman says potential US presidential hopeful Joe Biden touched her inappropriately

VIDEO: REUTERS
Mr Joe Biden has long been known for his intimate physical style.
Mr Joe Biden has long been known for his intimate physical style.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - A former congressional aide to Representative Jim Himes says then-Vice-President Joe Biden touched her inappropriately at a 2009 fund raiser, the second woman to make allegations against Mr Biden in the past week.

Mr Biden has long been known for his intimate physical style, and the appropriateness of his behaviour towards women is coming under scrutiny as he nears an announcement on a potential 2020 presidential bid.

Late last week, Ms Lucy Flores, a former Nevada state legislator, wrote an essay in which she said Mr Biden acted inappropriately towards her at a 2014 campaign event and made her feel uncomfortable.

In a comment on Sunday (March 31) on a "Connecticut Women in Politics" Facebook post that shared Ms Flores' story, the former congressional aide, Ms Amy Lappos, said Mr Biden "did something similar to me" at a Greenwich, Connecticut, fund raiser for Mr Himes.

"I can speak from experience when I say it's an incredibly uncomfortable situation and not at all acceptable," Ms Lappos wrote under the pseudonym "Alice Paul", according to the Hartford Courant newspaper.

"We need to hold our men to the same standards we hold all men."

The "Alice Paul" account includes photos of Ms Lappos and has pictures in common with her personal Facebook account.

Ms Lappos went on the record about the alleged incident in an interview with the Courant on Monday. She said Mr Biden, then 66, moved towards her while she was in the kitchen with several other volunteers at the private residence where the fund raiser was being held.

 
 

"It wasn't sexual, but he did grab me by the head," she told the newspaper. "He put his hand around my neck and pulled me in to rub noses with me. When he was pulling me in, I thought he was going to kiss me on the mouth."

Ms Lappos, 43, did not immediately respond to an e-mail and a phone call seeking comment.

Ms Lappos worked as an aide to Mr Himes from January 2009 to November 2016, primarily as a constituent services representative and grants coordinator, according to Legistorm, a congressional research firm. Her LinkedIn page lists her as the owner of Moma Grants, a freelance grant-writing service.

A Biden spokesman referred The Washington Post to a statement the former vice-president issued on Sunday, in which Mr Biden said he had offered "countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort" during his years in public life, "and not once - never - did I believe I acted inappropriately".

Mr Himes was not immediately available for comment.

The news comes days after Ms Flores said in her piece for New York magazine's The Cut that Mr Biden approached her from behind during a 2014 campaign rally, placed his hands on her shoulders, moved closer to her and planted a "big slow kiss" on the back of her head.

She said on Sunday that his behaviour had made her feel "powerless" and "like I couldn't move."

It also comes as Mr Biden is under increasing pressure from women's rights groups, prominent black leaders and other supporters of Anita Hill to acknowledge his responsibility for his handling of the 1991 confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Mr Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when the hearing took place; he recently sparked a backlash when he said he regretted that he "couldn't come up with a way to get (Hill) the kind of hearing she deserved".

In her interview with the Courant, Ms Lappos said she did not report the alleged 2009 incident at the time because "he was the Vice-President. I was a nobody". She said she believed Mr Biden's behaviour had crossed a line of "decency" and "respect".

"Crossing that line is not grandfatherly. It's not cultural. It's not affection. It's sexism or misogyny," she said.

The US$1,000-per-ticket fund raiser took place Oct 5, 2009, at the Greenwich home of Mr Ron Moelis, an affordable-housing developer. The event was covered for the Stamford Advocate by Mr Neil Vigdor, the reporter who broke the story about Ms Lappos' allegations on Monday for the Courant.

According to Mr Vigdor's 2009 piece, Mr Biden spoke for about 19 minutes on the Moelis home's rear terrace to an audience of 150 Connecticut Democrats, including Mr Richard Blumenthal and Mr Dannel Malloy. Mr Blumenthal, now the state's senior senator, was then the state's attorney general; Mr Malloy, who served as governor from 2011 to 2019, was Stamford's mayor at the time.

Mr Biden touted Mr Himes' record at the event, according to Mr Vigdor's story.

"I've campaigned for a lot of congressmen over my career," the then-Vice-President said of Mr Himes. "My lord, Rhodes Scholar, Wall Street. I think we got you straight out of Central Casting."

Mr Himes reportedly said: "There is nobody in Washington, DC, with the heart that Joe Biden has."

Ms Lappos has voted as a registered Democrat in the past, voter records show.

Her personal Facebook page prominently displays a black-and-white photo of five female Democratic presidential candidates: Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. The photo was posted on Feb 21.

A day before her allegations were reported by the Courant, Ms Lappos commented on Mr Biden on Facebook, republishing text that criticised his performance during past presidential bids, along with the performance of other male presidential candidates in past elections.

"This - elect women already. Geeze," she wrote.

Mr Biden said in his Sunday statement that he will "listen respectfully" to anyone who says he acted inappropriately towards them. At the same time, his team has pushed back against what it views as unfair criticism.

On Monday, Biden spokesman Bill Russo released a "Note on Recent Coverage" that highlighted the backstory behind two photos that have been widely circulated as evidence of Mr Biden's highly physical style.

In a 2015 photo with Mrs Stephanie Carter, wife of then-incoming Defence Secretary Ash Carter, Mr Biden is holding her shoulders and leaning in to whisper something in her ear.

Mrs Carter wrote in a Medium post on Sunday night that Mr Biden "kept his hands on my shoulders as a means of offering his support" on the day of her husband's swearing-in.

In 2015 photos with Ms Maggie Coons, the then-13-year-old daughter of Senator Christopher Coons, Mr Biden is leaning towards her and whispering something before kissing the side of her head.

While the girl appeared to react with discomfort, Mr Coons told The Post that there was nothing inappropriate in the encounter - "she did not think of it as anything".

Mr Russo called these perspectives "corrections of false (narratives)" about the two episodes.

"The familiar characterisations of these two photos that have been uncritically perpetuated, turn out to be very false," he wrote.

Mr Coons said on Monday that he believes the renewed public attention on Mr Biden's actions will not stop him from pursuing a 2020 White House bid.

"I'm confident he's going to run," the senator told Politico.