Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden sparked ire on social media after he touched a young girl at a campaign rally despite vowing last month to be more mindful about respecting women’s personal space.
The incident occurred during the American Federation of Teachers town hall on Tuesday, May 28, in Houston, Texas. Biden used the event to promote a new education plan, the first major policy announcement of his campaign.
The New York Times reported that the interaction between Biden and the 10-year-old girl happened after she asked him a question about political division in the country.
“I’m going to write you a longer answer and tell you the exact things I would do, okay? Promise,” Biden told the girl, according to video from the event. “I’ll bet you’re as bright as you are good-looking. What’s your favorite subject?”
“Journalism,” replied the child or parent.
“Journalism, woah!” Biden replied jokingly. “I better be more circumspect in my answers.”
Biden then brought the child to the back of the room where journalists had assembled and put his hands on her shoulders.
The Times reported that “the moment raised some eyebrows among online commentators. In the weeks leading up to his entrance into the race, a number of women said Mr. Biden had made them uncomfortable by touching them, leading to a reckoning around the physical way he has often interacted with women in public.”
Washington Post national political reporter Felicia Sonmez commented on the incident in a statement on Twitter: “In a somewhat odd moment at tonight’s AFT town hall, Biden tells a 10-year-old girl, ‘I’ll bet you’re as bright as you are good-looking.’ He takes her over to the assembled reporters, then stands behind her and puts his hands on her shoulders while he’s talking.”
“Recall that Biden filmed a video last month in which he vowed to respect women’s personal space,” Sonmez added. “Seems he hasn’t quite gotten the message.”
In a somewhat odd moment at tonight’s AFT town hall, Biden tells a 10-year-old girl, “I’ll bet you’re as bright as you are good-looking.” He takes her over to the assembled reporters, then stands behind her and puts his hands on her shoulders while he’s talking.
— Felicia Sonmez (@feliciasonmez) May 28, 2019
Biden received condemnation on social media from both conservatives and progressives.
Conservative blogger Jim Hanson wrote on Twitter: “This is not odd for him. He does it all the time. It is a sickness.”
This is not odd for him
He does it all the time
It is a sickness https://t.co/IgZVDDHLMP
— Jim Hanson (@Uncle_Jimbo) May 28, 2019
Leftist activist Sean King wrote in a tweet: “What the hell? Please escort this man out of politics. He doesn’t get it. This is so damn creepy. This may be a tipping point, honestly.”
What the hell?
Please escort this man out of politics. He doesn’t get it.
This is so damn creepy.
This may be a tipping point, honestly. https://t.co/QG4UzGqGzm
— Shaun King (@shaunking) May 29, 2019
Rosie O’Donnell tweeted: “just #creepy”
— ROSIE (@Rosie) May 28, 2019
Gizmodo editor Tim Marchman wrote on Twitter: “I would prefer Joe Biden was not running for president. I’ve been thinking about how to articulate this without getting into father of a daughter nonsense but my woke seven year old hears how pretty she is from a lot of weird old people and her mother and I have a lot of conversations with her about how to deal with it.”
Marchman added: “In all I think it would be good if weird old people who think it’s okay to train young girls they’ve never met to think of themselves in terms of their attractiveness would gently remove themselves from national politics.”
Joe Biden Responds to Earlier Accusations With Video
Biden responded with a two-minute video on April 3 to allegations he inappropriately touched a number of women, most recently stemming from two accusers who came forward.
Biden, in an attempt to stem the growing criticism against him, noted in the video that he would pay more attention to not invading people’s personal space. He also defended himself, describing it as “just who I am,” while stating that the times have changed.
“Social norms are changing,” Biden said in a Twitter post accompanying the video. “I understand that, and I’ve heard what these women are saying.”
“Politics to me has always been about making connections, but I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future. That’s my responsibility and I will meet it,” he added.
Social norms are changing. I understand that, and I’ve heard what these women are saying. Politics to me has always been about making connections, but I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future. That’s my responsibility and I will meet it. pic.twitter.com/Ya2mf5ODts
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) April 3, 2019
Biden did not specifically apologize in the video. So far, four women have come out alleging that Biden’s public displays of affection made them feel uncomfortable.
In the video, Biden made the case that politics for him was always about making connections with people.
“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, encouragement.”
Bowen Xiao contributed to this report.