A former Nevada state assemblywoman said on Friday that former Vice President Joe Biden made her feel “uneasy, gross, and confused” in 2014 when, at a campaign rally in Nevada, she said he kissed her on the back of the head.
Lucy Flores wrote about her allegations in an essay for The Cut, an arm of New York magazine, saying the encounter with Biden occurred sidestage during a November 2014 event when she was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of the state. Biden does not recall any impropriety, a spokesman said.
The piece includes a photo of Biden and Flores, along with actress Eva Longoria, before the encounter Flores alleges took place.
“I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified,” Flores wrote, adding that she wondered why the then-vice president had come that close to her. “He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused.”
Flores continued: “I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t say anything. I wanted nothing more than to get Biden away from me.”
Her account comes as Biden is considering a bid for president in 2020. He is expected to announce his decision as soon as April.
In a statement to CNN responding to Flores’ allegation, Bill Russo, a Biden spokesman, said, “Vice President Biden was pleased to support Lucy Flores’s candidacy for Lieutenant Governor of Nevada in 2014 and to speak on her behalf at a well-attended public event. Neither then, nor in the years since, did he or the staff with him at the time have an inkling that Ms. Flores had been at any time uncomfortable, nor do they recall what she describes.
“But Vice President Biden believes that Ms. Flores has every right to share her own recollection and reflections, and that it is a change for better in our society that she has the opportunity to do so. He respects Ms. Flores as a strong and independent voice in our politics and wishes her only the best.”
Flores, in a phone interview with CNN on Friday night, said she decided to come forward because she felt Biden’s public interactions with women had not been properly scrutinized. Over the years, photos and video of Biden touching women at public events have garnered media attention, but much of Biden’s behavior in this regard has been downplayed or attributed to Biden’s personal approach. One such instance occurred at the swearing in of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in 2015, where Biden put his hands on Carter’s wife’s shoulders, leaned over and whispered something in her ear. Video of the incident was scrutinized on social media; Carter’s wife, Stephanie, later said she was not offended by the incident, according to Politico.
“For me, it was just that I was really disturbed by the fact that this was not being discussed,” Flores said. “That this part of his history and his behavior, given so much photographic evidence, given so many stories that had been written in the past and, frankly, I believe had not been taken very seriously. That were basically just almost like a joke. But this isn’t funny. When you’re on the receiving end of this behavior, it’s not funny at all.”
Biden’s spokesman Russo said the former vice president has always been a “champion for women.”
“People know Joe Biden and they know his character, his integrity and his values. They know him to be someone who is empathetic, caring and who understands their problems and concerns,” Russo said in a statement on Saturday. “That’s how he reacts to people and it’s how people react to him. In fact, some of the people who know him best — people who have worked for him throughout his career — are speaking up to say that he has always been a champion for women in his office.”
Flores went on to cast her accusation as a relatively minor one but said she believed a person of Biden’s standing should be held to a stronger standard.
“I’m not suggesting that this is the most traumatizing thing that I had ever experienced in my life. I am suggesting that it was wrong and inappropriate,” she said, adding, “We should expect better from all men and women too – anyone that’s in a position of power we should expect better from – and certainly we should expect better from the vice president of United States.”
In her essay, Flores, noting at the time she was a “young Latina in politics,” said she had “never experienced anything so blatantly inappropriate and unnerving before,” adding that Biden “made me feel uneasy, gross, and confused,” as well as “powerless.”
“Even if his behavior wasn’t violent or sexual, it was demeaning and disrespectful,” she wrote.
“I’m not suggesting that Biden broke any laws, but the transgressions that society deems minor (or doesn’t even see as transgressions) often feel considerable to the person on the receiving end. That imbalance of power and attention is the whole point — and the whole problem,” Flores wrote.
Flores in her essay said she considered “the doubts, the threats, the insults, and the minimization” that may come as a result of her publicly sharing her allegation, but said she decided to after considering Biden’s potential run.
In her essay, Flores describes a “male friend who is also a political operative in Biden’s orbit” who she said made her question herself and wonder if she was doing the right thing. She did not name the friend in the piece, but Flores later confirmed to CNN that the man was political operative Cristobal Alex, who came forward on Twitter Friday night to say Flores’ essay misrepresented him.
“I told her as a friend I was sorry and I was concerned about she had told me, which I had not heard before,” Alex wrote on Twitter. “Knowing that I had been there, I went back to check the photos from the event. I told her, as a friend, that in no way did I question her recollection of the experience, but that once it became public, she could expect questions, and that what she remembered did not match my recollection or what was in the photos.”
Alex continued, writing that he felt “sucker-punched and surprised when I read (her) essay,” which he said “misrepresented me.”
After being read Alex’s tweet – which was posted shortly before her interview with CNN – Flores said she stood by her characterization of the conversation in her account. Alex did not respond to requests for comment by CNN.
She also described her experience as being emblematic of a more deeply rooted political problem – one that crosses partisan lines.
“This is something that is going to continue to happen and I think that it’s really, really important that we do demand from all candidates, from all parties, that they speak to how they’re going to address these kinds of power and imbalances and address the lack of accountability structures in order for people to feel safe,” Flores told CNN. “And for people to feel like if there was inappropriate behavior or if something happened to them, that they feel like they can actually say something about it.”
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.