Biden offers jokes about controversy in first public appearance

Former Vice President Joe Biden offered two jokes on Friday about the controversy that has engulfed his campaign-in-waiting in his first public appearance since several women accused him of touching them inappropriately.

Biden arrived on stage at the Washington Hilton on Friday to address the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers conference and shook the hand of the union president, Lonnie Stephenson, before giving him a brief hug.

“I want you to know, I had permission to hug Lonnie,” Biden said to laughter from the crowd.

{mosads}Later, Biden invited several children on stage and shook their hands. Shortly after, he pulled one of the boys close and put his arm around him.

“By the way, he gave me permission to touch him,” Biden said.

The jokes came just two days after Biden released a video that sought to contain a crisis that appeared to be threatening his expected campaign. 

In the video, Biden did not directly apologize to women who have complained he invaded their personal space, but acknowledged that times have changed and said he would change his behavior.

“Social norms have begun to change, they’ve shifted, and the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset, and I get it,” Biden said in the video. “I hear what they’re saying. I understand it. I’ll be much more mindful. That’s my responsibility, and I’ll meet it.”

As a result, the jokes a day later were surprising and the reaction online and in cable news talk was to question whether Biden had undone whatever benefit the video had given him.

Biden, speaking to reporters outside after delivering his speech, said he was not sorry for his past actions, but that he is sorry he didn’t understand more at the time.

“It was not my intent to make light of anyone’s discomfort,” Biden said after the speech. “I realize my responsibility is to not invade the space of anyone who is uncomfortable.”

Biden’s appearance in Washington was hyped given the controversy, which had dominated political talk and led to a new feud with President Trump, who mocked Biden with a parody of his video. 

Biden has led a number of polls of the Democratic race and is seen by many as the Democrat with the best chance of defeating Trump in the general election. As a result, the White House has not been unhappy to see his stumbles.

Trump on Friday told reporters he did not see Biden as a threat.

Scores of reporters were on hand at the Washington Hilton to see how Biden would handle the controversy and whether he would offer a direct apology.

In the video, Biden defended his behavior as innocent and said his public displays of affection are part of his authenticity and personal approach to politics.

“I’ve found that scores, if not hundreds of people, have come up to me and reached out for solace or comfort, something, anything that might help them get through the tragedy they’re going through, and so it’s just who I am,” Biden said.

“And I’ve never thought of politics as cold or antiseptic, I’ve always thought about it as connecting with people, shaking hands, a hand on the shoulder, a hug or encouragement.”

In his speech on Friday, Biden talked of the need to treat others with respect.

“How the hell did we get to the place where a lot of you feel the rest of the country doesn’t see you, hear you or know you? Or most importantly, respects you for what you do?,” Biden said. “It matters how we treat people and how we talk to them. You guys are like me, I never walk away from a table without thanking the waiter.”

Biden’s jokes about the controversy could lead to new criticisms that he is out of touch or not sympathetic enough to the times.

The allegations against him underscore a generational divide within the Democratic Party and the tricky politics of the “Me Too” era, as Democrats seek to maintain the moral high ground against Trump, who has also been accused of sexual misconduct.

And it could be seen as reflecting frustrations among some of the former vice president’s defenders. They say his displays of public affection reflect his desire to connect with people on a personal basis and that the media has overblown the story.

Updated 1:29 p.m.

Tags 2020 presidential race Democratic presidential primary Donald Trump Joe Biden

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