Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, a possible Democratic challenger to President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, denied Sunday that he "acted inappropriately" in the face of allegations from a Nevada lawmaker that he unexpectedly touched her shoulders and kissed her hair at a 2014 political rally.
Lucy Flores, a former Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in the western state of Nevada, recalled the incident on CNN, saying that "very unexpectedly and out of nowhere, I feel Joe Biden put his hands on my shoulders, get up very close to me from behind, lean in, smell my hair and then plant a slow kiss on the top of my head."
She called the moment "shocking," adding, "You don't expect that kind of intimacy from someone so powerful and someone who you just have no relationship (with) whatsoever to touch you and to feel you and to be so close to you in that way."
Biden said: "In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once - never - did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention."
Political surveys show the 76-year-old Biden leading a long list of Democrats seeking the party's nomination to oust Trump from the White House, but he has not yet formally declared his candidacy even as he has made frequent speeches at campaign-style rallies in recent weeks.
He has twice unsuccessfully sought the party's presidential nomination, before serving for eight years as vice president under former President Barack Obama, ending in early 2017.
In the lead-up to his presumed candidacy, Biden has faced new questions about his public hands-on attention to women in public settings over the years and notably his 1991 treatment of Anita Hill when Biden, as a U.S. senator, chaired the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
Hill is a college law professor who accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment when they worked together at a U.S. government agency, but the all-male panel headed by Biden largely dismissed her allegations, with Thomas winning narrow confirmation to the country's highest court, where he still sits.
Biden in recent days has said he regretted that he "couldn't come up with a way to get her the kind of hearing she deserved," even though he led the committee.
Biden is not believed to have apologized personally to Hill in the nearly three decades since the hearing. But as he seemingly moves toward another presidential candidacy in an era of new accountability for men in powerful positions of their treatment of women in years past, Biden is facing new calls for further explanation of his role in the Thomas confirmation hearings.