Biden walks into Trump's punchline

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTed Cruz knocks New York Times for 'stunning' correction on Kavanaugh report US service member killed in Afghanistan Pro-Trump website edited British reality star's picture to show him wearing Trump hat MORE mocked Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's 12:30 Report: NY Times story sparks new firestorm over Kavanaugh Top Sanders adviser: 'He is a little bit angry' Working Families Party endorses Warren after backing Sanders in 2016 MORE on Friday, saying he didn’t see the former vice president as a threat because he’s “only a threat to himself.”
 
Hours later, Biden may have proved the president’s point.
 
Seeking to move on from the controversy over allegations of unwanted touching and kissing from women, Biden offered jokes and a non-apology in front of a union crowd in Washington, D.C.
 

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The performance received mixed reviews at best, with some commentators questioning whether Biden, a politician with a long history of gaffes, was taking the criticism of his behavior seriously. 
 
“Biden promised he would take this seriously,” said Amanda Marcotte, a writer for the liberal website Salon. “But instead, he’s making people who believed him look like chumps.”

 


Biden’s first joke came after he walked on stage to address the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers conference. The former vice president 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.

Later, Biden invited several children onstage 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 landed with the friendly crowd, but most of the talk from pundits focused on why Biden would joke about the matter. 
 
The first woman to go public with an accusation against Biden, former Nevada legislator Lucy Flores, said the comments showed Biden didn’t get it. 
 
“It’s clear @JoeBiden hasn’t reflected at all on how his inappropriate and unsolicited touching made women feel uncomfortable,” said Flores, who said Biden kissed the back of her head and grabbed her shoulders at a campaign event. “To make light of something as serious as consent degrades the conversation women everywhere are courageously trying to have.” 
 
In remarks to reporters after the speaking event, Biden did cleanup in response to outrage over the jokes. But he insisted that he wasn’t sorry about any of his past actions.
 
“I’m sorry I didn’t understand more,” Biden said outside the Washington Hilton. “I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I’m not sorry for anything that I have ever done. I have never been disrespectful intentionally to a man or a woman. So that’s not the reputation I’ve had since I was in high school, for god’s sakes.”
 
Biden’s remarks suggest he thinks the controversy around him is overblown, a sense shared by some of his supporters.
 
“The whole thing has been overexposed,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) told The Hill on Thursday. 
 
“I think Joe Biden has kissed me a couple of times. This is Democratic ignorance being played out here,” he said. “Anybody who has been around him knows he’ll put his hand on you like that, lean right into you … I don’t think he was sexually harassing me … this is getting silly.”

A new Hill-HarrisX poll found that 56 percent of voters do not view Biden’s actions as disqualifying.

In his remarks to reporters on Friday, Biden made it crystal-clear that he is running for president, all but explicitly saying that an announcement is coming. He is widely expected to enter the race at the end of this month or in May.
 
Polls suggest he will be a top contender, and many Democrats see Biden as having the best shot at defeating Trump in 2020. Grass-roots conservatives interviewed by The Hill at the Conservative Political Action Conference this year saw Biden as the greatest threat to Trump’s reelection bid.

But some of the biggest questions about Biden surround his age and politics, and the controversy over his behavior toward women threatens to make him look out of step with an increasingly liberal party that has sought to take seriously the concerns of women who say they’ve been mistreated.

The allegations against Biden 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.

“When women talk about the every day indignities we face - the too close hugs, the shoulder rubs - a huge hurdle is the fear that we'll be accused of overreacting. That we’ll be laughed at,” said Jessica Valenti, the author of the book “Sex Object.” “Biden is proving that fear correct.” 

 


Biden had sought to move on from the controversy with a Wednesday video in which he acknowledged that times have changed and vowed to 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.”

But his jokes and remarks on Friday seem certain to extend the storyline for the near future. 

“He had to know walking onto the stage the moment and then he makes what he considers to be a joke, which I suspect a lot of other people, especially the women involved, are going to find offensive,” said CNN anchor John King.


The White House, which despite Trump’s comments may see Biden as a threat in states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, has gleefully embraced his stumbles.

One pro-Trump group has already put six figures behind a digital ad showing children watching images of Biden touching women. The ads will run on television once Biden enters the race.

Trump shared a doctored video on Thursday that mocked Biden over the allegations. The 14-second clip showed an image of the former vice president rubbing Biden's shoulders as he addressed the allegations of inappropriate behavior.

The president defended the video on Friday, saying he believes people “got a kick” out of it.

Trump, who himself has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women, downplayed a question about whether he's the right person to speak out about Biden, telling reporters he believes he's a “very good messenger.”

“He’s going through a situation and let’s see what happens,” Trump said of Biden. “But people got a kick. We’ve got to sort of smile a little bit.”