Biden controversy splits Dems on generational, political lines

The controversy over former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger pens op-ed in defense of Biden: 'I stuttered once, too. I dare you to mock me' MORE’s behavior toward women has split Democrats along generational and political lines and is testing the party’s zero tolerance policy on sexual misconduct in the "Me Too" era.

Biden’s campaign-in-waiting has been rocked by allegations from two women who have accused the former vice president of unwanted and inappropriate touching. Neither woman has said there was anything sexual about the contact. Biden has said he did not intend to make the women feel uncomfortable.

The former vice president and his top advisers are in crisis mode, privately reassuring supporters and donors that he’s committed to running for president in 2020. Publicly, Biden has been thrust into the center of a debate over whether any allegation of misconduct should be disqualifying for Democrats.

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Some liberals say the party must not waver on the issue if it's going to maintain the moral high ground against President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's newest Russia adviser, Andrew Peek, leaves post: report Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Trump rips New York City sea wall: 'Costly, foolish' and 'environmentally unfriendly idea' MORE, who has also been accused of sexual misconduct.

Shaunna Thomas, the co-founder and executive director of the women’s rights group UltraViolet, said Biden’s response to the controversy — that he didn’t intend to do harm — shows that he’s out of step with the current moment.

"It’s about leadership and proving he’s the right person right now to be president," Thomas said. "The people pointing out his history as they personally experienced it have given him a gift — to own the harm done, whether he intended it or not, make amends and be a champion for change. Joe is choosing a different path right now, and that is unfortunate."

However, many Democrats leaped to Biden’s defense, arguing that his behavior was innocent and is being blown out of proportion. Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate opens Trump impeachment trial Democrats ask if US citizens were detained at border checkpoints due to Iranian national origin Pelosi set to send impeachment articles to the Senate next week MORE (D-Calif.) called Biden a "warm, tactile person" and said that his public displays of affection are "a new thing that people have been affronted by."

Biden’s defenders say criticism of his behavior is an example of the "Me Too" movement going too far and creating an atmosphere of panic about interactions between men and women.

On Tuesday, in a clip that went viral, MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski blasted Biden’s critics and warned that party was cannibalizing itself by damaging a candidate some view as the party’s best hope to defeat Trump.

Brzezinski called the allegations of inappropriate touching against Biden "ridiculous." She warned "woke" liberals against "eating those who can beat Trump."

"I think the next time I see Joe Biden and he doesn't hug me and give me a kiss and hold my hand while we're talking to you, that's the new Joe Biden, and that's not the Joe Biden I knew," Brzezinski said on "Morning Joe."

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiREAD: House impeachment managers' trial brief Desperate Democrats badmouth economy even as it booms Pelosi offers message to Trump on Bill Maher show: 'You are impeached forever' MORE (D-Calif.) sought a middle ground, saying she doesn’t believe Biden’s actions are "disqualifying" but that he should be more cognizant of how he makes women feel.

Pelosi also seemed to swipe at Biden’s apology, in which he said it was never his "intent" to make women uncomfortable.

"It's important for the vice president and others to understand it isn't what you intended. It's how it was received," Pelosi said.

When Biden enters the presidential race, the 76-year-old will have to fight back against the perception that he’s from a bygone era.

The Democratic Party has shifted dramatically to the left since Biden left the White House in 2016, and the "Me Too" movement has ushered in a new era of accountability about how powerful men treat women.

The allegations "have the effect of highlighting a generational divide — making Biden seem like a man out of his time," said Democratic strategist Basil Smikle.

There’s also a political element to the criticism of Biden, who would enter the presidential race as a top contender.

There is bad blood between the campaigns of Biden and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record The Memo: Sanders-Warren battle could reshape Democratic primary MORE (I-Vt.), the progressive favorite. The Sanders campaign views the former vice president as its primary obstacle on the path to the nomination.

Several other 2020 contenders would also benefit from Biden being sidelined or politically weakened by the controversy.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial Overnight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 MORE (D-N.Y.), who is running for president, said Biden had "demeaned" women and that he must "address this more directly" if he gets in the race. Another 2020 contender, Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSanders to headline Iowa event amid impeachment trial On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Sanders defends vote against USMCA | China sees weakest growth in 29 years | Warren praises IRS move on student loans Poll: Sanders holds 5-point lead over Buttigieg in New Hampshire MORE (D-Minn.), said she has "no reason not to believe" Biden’s accuser after the first account surfaced.

Many progressives already viewed Biden with suspicion.

Once he gets in the race, the former vice president will have to defend many of his past positions, including his vote to authorize military action in Iraq. Biden has already expressed regret for his handling of Anita Hill’s Senate hearing in the 1990s, when she accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.

"He’s been in politics for a long time, and our party has evolved over that time," said Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. "Some of the positions he’s taken in the past that were once mainstream are no longer mainstream, and the party has become much more progressive."

Other Democrats are defending Biden as ahead of his time and say he shouldn’t be subjected to a purity test for his decades of service.

"He pushed for the Violence Against Women Act. He’s the one who pushed for LGBT equality in the Obama administration. He has a record to stand on here," said one Democrat.

Still, several Democrats told The Hill that Biden bungled his response and that his indecision about entering the race has made him seem flat-footed.

"It would have been very different if he came out and said, 'This is who and how I am, but I realize now is a different time, and I need to listen to what women are saying,' as Pelosi said," one strategist said. "But now, as he’s been waiting to get in, the two lanes of problems he was having have converged, and he has both an ideological problem and a 'Me Too' problem that are both amplified by a generational divide."