Crisis hits Biden as new allegation emerges

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden bemoans white supremacy in remarks at civil rights movement site Gun control: Campaigning vs. legislating Sunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate MORE is facing a crisis before the launch of his expected White House campaign after a second woman on Monday accused him of inappropriate touching.

The allegations have shined the spotlight on Biden’s interactions with women, leading to new questions about the appropriateness of his behavior and testing his relationships with Democrats in the “Me Too” era.

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Amy Lappos became the second woman in four days to accuse Biden of inappropriate behavior when she told the Hartford Courant that Biden had touched her inappropriately and rubbed noses with her during a 2009 fundraiser in Greenwich, Conn.

“When he was pulling me in, I thought he was going to kiss me on the mouth,” Lappos, 43, told the Courant. 

On Friday, former Nevada state legislator Lucy Flores, a Democrat, accused Biden of inappropriately kissing the back of her head while putting his hands on her shoulders. Flores was a candidate for lieutenant governor of the state at the time.

The stories have drawn new attention to dozens of pictures that show Biden in hugs and other embraces with different women, photos that political opponents of the vice president have used over the years to denigrate him. The conservative Drudge Report for most of Monday led its page with a collection of 10 photos of Biden and the headline “Out of touch?”

Biden’s staff on Monday pushed back hard against the narrative, describing a “cottage industry of lies” and right-wing smears.

Biden spokesman Bill Russo highlighted two photos that have been used against the vice president to underscore how he is being treated unfairly. The photos — one of Biden and Stephanie Carter, who is married to former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, and the other of Biden with the 13-year-old daughter of Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew Coons The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Democratic senator warns O'Rourke AR-15 pledge could haunt party for years Scalise says it's unclear if bipartisan deal on guns will happen MORE (D-Del.) — were both being used misleadingly, Russo said.

Coons, who filled Biden’s long-held Senate seat in 2010, in an interview with The Washington Post said Biden was praising his daughter’s composure in a photo that showed him whispering in her ear.

“She did not think of it as anything,” Coons said. “All three of my kids have known Joe their whole lives.”

Stephanie Carter also came to Biden’s defense, saying the photo of her with Biden’s hands on her shoulders was “misleadingly extracted” from a longer moment at her husband’s swearing-in ceremony.  

“After the swearing in, as Ash was giving remarks, [Biden] leaned in to tell me ‘thank you for letting him do this’ and kept his hands on my shoulders as a means of offering his support,” she wrote. “But a still shot taken from a video  —  misleadingly extracted from what was a longer moment between close friends  —  sent out in a snarky tweet  —  came to be the lasting image of that day.”

Other Democratic candidates put pressure on Biden.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandAt debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Trump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions Klobuchar, Buttigieg find themselves accidentally flying to debate together MORE (D-N.Y.), who is running for president and has made fighting sexual harassment a major part of her candidacy, on Monday said Biden needs to come clean with voters if he decides to jump in the race. 

“Lucy Flores felt demeaned, and that’s never OK. If Vice President Biden decides to run for president, this is something he’s going to have to address directly with the American people.”

Asked if the allegations if true would be disqualifying, Gillibrand said, “Based on what I’ve read, Lucy Flores feels demeaned. It’s not OK.” 

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaYoung insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight Khanna: I 'didn't appreciate' Castro's attack on Biden Overwhelming majority of voters want lawmakers to work with other party MORE (D-Calif.), an adviser to Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGun control: Campaigning vs. legislating Booker defends middle-ground health care approach: 'We're going to fight to get there' Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate MORE’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign, told reporters at a pen-and-pad briefing Monday that the allegations against Biden are serious. 

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“I think at a minimum, the vice president should acknowledge that what he did was wrong and that we need to have a change of culture in this country,” Khanna said.

Sanders on Monday declined to discuss the allegations. 

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate Klobuchar: Investigation into Kavanaugh 'a sham' Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate MORE (D-Minn.), who is running for president, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that she had “no reason not to believe” Flores.

Aides to other hopefuls are taking their shots at Biden, who they see as being weakened by the allegations.

One senior Democrat on another presidential campaign said the “creepy Biden” storyline has the potential to do long-term damage to the former vice president.

“If Biden’s chief argument is electability, this story eats right at that foundation,” the Democrat said. “Women are a solid majority of Democratic primary voters, and now Biden is going to have to pass a ‘creepy’ test.”

The Democratic Party has sought to take a no-tolerance approach to inappropriate sexual behavior, quickly forcing Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenPoliticon announces lineup including Comey, Hannity, Priebus Scarlett Johansson defends Woody Allen: 'I believe him' Trump mocks Gillibrand after exit: 'She was the one I was really afraid of!' MORE’s (D-Minn.) resignation after stories about his behavior and a photo of him pantomiming the groping of a sleeping woman’s breasts first surfaced.

“There’s a professional line,” the Democrat connected with a rival said. “This is the party where Franken couldn’t survive.”

Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Former GOP Rep. Jason Lewis says he'll challenge Tina Smith in Minnesota Reid says he wishes Franken would run for Senate again MORE (D-Minn.) breathed an audible sigh when asked about Biden. 

“It’s a wide-open competition, and I think Vice President Biden is going to need to explain this and help people understand this.” 

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoMarijuana industry donations to lawmakers surge in 2019: analysis Female Democratic Senate candidates in Colorado ask DSCC to rescind Hickenlooper endorsement Democrats press Trump Treasury picks on donor disclosure guidelines MORE (D), who represents Nevada, also said she believes Flores.

“There’s no reason not to believe her. Absolutely I believe her,” she said.

Russo issued a statement for Biden on Friday that said he and his staff did not have an “inkling” Flores had been made uncomfortable by his behavior. Russo said Flores had “every right to share her own recollection and reflections.” 

Flores endorsed Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. She went on to serve on the board of Our Revolution, the advocacy group that formed out of Sanders’s campaign. 

Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist who worked on Sanders’s 2016 campaign and John KerryJohn Forbes KerryLet's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy The Memo: Democrats struggle to find the strongest swing-state candidate 2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa's top pollster MORE’s 2004 presidential campaign, predicted that Biden would be able to maintain support among longtime Democratic friends.

Some Democrats, including former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, appeared on television to support Biden.

“I’ve seen some really strong women who worked with him over the years in the Senate and as vice president who have already come to TV to defend him very strongly,” Devine said. “I don’t think Joe Biden was a guy who had bad intent and did bad things. I don’t think he’s that guy at all.”

“Biden is not Trump. He’s not a guy who’s malevolent in his actions toward women. He is someone who has a great record supporting issues of concern toward women,” he added. “I don’t think this going to hurt him if he decides to get in the race in the long run because people who know him very well will stand up and support him.”

Naomi Jagoda contributed.