Joe Biden’s nascent presidential campaign and allied advisers are growing more convinced that stories of the former vice president inappropriately touching women are being pushed by opposing Democratic campaigns—and it’s caused them to pivot into campaign mode earlier than planned.
That assessment has created a sense of resentment and resolve inside the Biden camp, where there appears to be little appetite to reconsider going forward on a presidential bid. And it portends a potentially sharp-elbowed rollout for Biden should he firmly decide to enter the race.
One top Democratic source said that the suspicion within the Biden universe was that stories of women being made physically uncomfortable by the former VP were “all coming out of Bernie world.”
The insinuation was that Lucy Flores, a former Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of Nevada in 2014, came forward at the behest of Senator Sanders to allege that Biden had given her an unwanted kiss. Flores supported Sanders during the 2016 election and was on the board of his group Our Revolution. She also appeared at a rally for former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) and has consistently maintained that she wrote her first-person essay detailing her encounter with Biden because she felt that coverage of the former VP was failing to note images and instances similar to hers. Flores has not endorsed anyone in the race as of yet.
Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir strongly denied any suggestion that the senator’s team or its allies were behind the Flores story, saying accusations of such made his “blood boil.”
“Neither the Bernie Sanders campaign nor anyone involved in it, planted, planned, persuaded, cajoled or otherwise urged Lucy Flores or anyone else to tell their story. Full stop, period, end of sentence. I don’t want to hear it. We didn’t play a role,” Shakir told The Daily Beast.
“But this is why my blood boils,” he added. “We have heard through innuendo and rumors that somehow this campaign was involved in Lucy Flores telling her story and it is deeply disrespectful and shameful that any time a woman comes forward to tell her story there has to be some kind of intimation or suggestion that that person is doing so out of some political agenda and or that the person may be lying… It is shameful. We went through the Donald Trump campaign in which a number of women came forward to tell their stories and they were dismissed and criticized and ripped by the president of the United States on the highest stage of the land. We saw it with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, that she must be a Dianne Feinstein plant. It is dismissive and disrespectful that whenever a woman comes forward the first suggestion is that there has to be a political agenda driving them.”
Among Biden advisers, there has been deep concern about how to handle and move beyond Flores’ story. Democratic senators close to the former VP expressed concern over the weekend that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to effectively message that the incidents showed Biden as affectionate and caring as opposed to exploiting power dynamics and making unwanted physical contact. Those fears were compounded on Monday when Amy Lappos, a Connecticut woman, came forward with a similar allegation to Flores’, this time involving Biden attending a 2009 fundraiser. They’ve grown more complicated as Biden’s potential competitors in the primary have said they believe Flores while urging Biden to address the matter. It’s also unlikely end with Flores and Lappos as other news outlets are rumored to be looking into similar accounts.
One Democratic operative in touch with Biden’s team said that aides “were ready for this,” since photos and videos of Biden walking up to, if not skirting, these lines have been publicized in the past. “But living it is a lot different than thinking it will come out,” the operative added. “Seeing the stories live is different than hearing, ‘Oh yeah, everyone has a Biden story.’”
Faced with these stories, Biden’s team has pivoted—operating much more as an actual campaign than a campaign in waiting, both practically and tonally. An email was circulated among the Biden faithful on Monday urging them to push back on any insinuation this will impact his decision making, after it took over 24 hours for the vice president to make an initial statement following the Friday allegation.
Some of the push-back has happened organically, however. Over his decades in public office, Biden employed numerous top female aides, many of whom have gone on to take top roles in women’s advocacy organizations and political operations. Those alumni quickly began putting out statements and testimonials vouching for Biden’s integrity and trumpeting the work he has done on women’s issues, most notably the passage of the Violence Against Women Act.
“I think he has to tell his story and I mean his story about how he is going to rebuild the middle class and all the things people are looking for in a president,” former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell told The Daily Beast. “People who have known him for a long time know he is a very friendly compassionate guy who is really engaging and they know who he is. It is not for any of us to disregard how these women have felt but I can tell you, everybody who knows him knows there is nothing intentional or nefarious… I think he needs to be himself and he needs to talk about the issues people care about. And I think there are enough women in particular who will vouch for him.”
Stephanie Carter, one of the subjects of the infamous images featuring Biden, wrote a Medium post explaining that nothing inappropriate happened on the day of her husband’s swearing-in. Other staffers have put out statements and appeared on cable news to say that they had never seen or experienced any untoward behavior from the former Vice President throughout years of working with him.
“I think it’s a story of our time. I think that the vice president has a way that he expresses appreciation and emotion that we have all been aware of for decades,” Amanda Loveday, the former executive director of the South Carolina Democratic Party, who has spent a lot of time with Biden, told The Daily Beast. “In my experience and in a lot of other women’s experience with the vice president, everything he’s ever done has been from a very genuine and honest place, with zero intent for malicious activity.”
Still, Trump allies were quick to pounce on the growing narrative. Great America PAC released a trolly web video titled “Creepy Joe” featuring an interview with Flores, set to haunting music and overlaid footage of children seemingly watching Biden on TV greeting women and girls.
The irony-free ad, given the number of women who have accused Trump of sexual harassment as well as the president’s history of lewd comments, ends with the phrase “our children are watching… what example are we setting for them.”