Biden controversy splits Dems on generational, political lines

Greg Nash

The controversy over former Vice President Joe Biden’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.

{mosads}Some liberals say the party must not waver on the issue if it’s going to maintain the moral high ground against President Trump, 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 Feinstein (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 Pelosi (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 Sanders (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 Gillibrand (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 Klobuchar (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.”

Tags 2020 Democratic primary 2020 presidential campaign Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump Joe Biden Kirsten Gillibrand Nancy Pelosi

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