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Biden Comments And Jokes On Inappropriate Touching Allegations


And it has been a week of controversy for the still unofficial presidential campaign of Joe Biden. Several women have come forward with stories of moments, they say, in which Mr. Biden made them feel extremely uncomfortable by hugging them or getting too close. Yesterday, the former vice president made his first public appearance since those allegations and commented on the matter. NPR's Don Gonyea says it began a bit awkwardly.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: The setting was a morning speech by Joe Biden to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He was introduced by the union's president, Lonnie Stephenson. As Biden took the stage, the two men shared a friendly embrace, prompting this...


JOE BIDEN: And I just want you to know I had permission to hug Lonnie.


GONYEA: Biden then went into what seemed a standard stump speech. But about 10 minutes later, he invited some kids in the audience up on stage. He shook their hands and gave one of the boys a quick hug and then this...


BIDEN: By the way, he gave me permission to touch him.


GONYEA: But that was it for that topic. The speech continued, including this attack on President Trump...


BIDEN: Well, this president wages war on Twitter and insults his opponents, attacks our most important institutions - the courts, the press, the Congress - inflames our nation's oldest wounds of racism and hate.

GONYEA: Biden was warmly received inside the ballroom. Afterward, he approached a scrum of reporters clustered on the sidewalk outside. Biden seemed to want to set the record straight about something he said - the lines about getting permission for those onstage hugs. His first words - that his intent was not to make light of anyone's discomfort.


BIDEN: I realize my responsibility is to not invade the space of anyone who is uncomfortable in that regard. And I hope it wasn't taken that way.

GONYEA: When asked if he'll offer a direct apology to the women who have come forward, Biden said he's sorry he didn't understand he'd made them uncomfortable.


BIDEN: I'm sorry I didn't understand. I'm not sorry for any of my intentions. I'm not sorry for anything that I have ever done. I've never been disrespectful intentionally, to a man or a woman.

GONYEA: The questioning turned to when Biden would officially join the Democratic presidential contest. He promised an announcement very soon. Asked if the events of the past week would change the way he campaigns, the politician, who has always prided himself in authenticity, in his ability to be himself, acknowledged, yes, it would.


BIDEN: And it's not a bad thing. It's a new thing, it's important and I'm sure it's going to take a while for it to settle out. But it's settled out for me (laughter).

GONYEA: Former Vice President Joe Biden in Washington yesterday. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.