Former Vice President Joe Biden made light of the allegations by women against him of inappropriate touching on Friday, joking he had "permission" to hug the man introducing him at a speech and another boy afterward.
Biden was introduced by President Lonnie Stephenson for his speech Friday to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union in Washington.
"I just want you to know, I had permission to hug Lonnie," Biden said, to laughter from the crowd. "I don't know, man."
Later, with his hand around the shoulder of a boy on the stage, he joked he had been given "permission to touch him."
It was a clear reference to how Biden has come under fire for making several women feel uncomfortable by kissing them on the head, rubbing noses with them, or grabbing their shoulders or other parts of their body over the course of his political career. The stories have come forward as Biden continues to mull entering the crowded 2020 Democratic presidential primary.
Lucy Flores, who accused Trump of kissing her on the head in a way that made her feel "gross" before a Nevada campaign event in 2014, tweeted her displeasure with Biden's attempt at humor.
"It’s clear @JoeBiden hasn’t reflected at all on how his inappropriate and unsolicited touching made women feel uncomfortable," she said. "To make light of something as serious as consent degrades the conversation women everywhere are courageously trying to have."
It’s clear @JoeBiden hasn’t reflected at all on how his inappropriate and unsolicited touching made women feel uncomfortable. To make light of something as serious as consent degrades the conversation women everywhere are courageously trying to have.
— Lucy Flores (@LucyFlores) April 5, 2019
MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell called Biden "awkward" on the stage, and the Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus said she "winced" when she realized Biden had made a second joke about the story.
Biden released a video Wednesday where he said "social norms have begun to change" and he would be more "mindful and respectful" of people's personal space going forward. The 76-year-old didn't apologize or specifically address any of the women who came forward.
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
President Donald Trump mocked Biden by sharing a conservative parody video on Thursday of Biden massaging himself.
Numerous political and media figures have jumped to Biden's defense, offering testimonials about his personal kindness and saying they took no offense at his tactile style. Former President Barack Obama, who has called Biden a "brother" and a close friend, has remained silent.
UPDATE: Friday, 1:30 P.M.: This article was updated with Lucy Flores's tweet criticizing Biden's jokes.