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Ex-US VP Joe Biden tries to defuse crisis over behavior with women

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Then US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter (R) speaks beside his wife Stephanie and US Vice President Joe Biden during a swearing-in ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on February 17, 2015. (AFP photo)

Former US Vice President Joe Biden has defended his interactions with women, saying he doesn't believe he's ever acted inappropriately, as he scrambles to contain a quickly growing crisis for his likely bid to run in the 2020 presidential election.

Biden said in a statement on Sunday that he never intended to make women feel uncomfortable but acknowledged that he had shown “expressions of affection” to women.

"In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort," he said.. "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."

"We have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will," he added.

Biden also put forward several former female aides and allies to praise his treatment of women.

Lucy Flores, a Nevada politician, accused Biden on Friday of inappropriately kissing and touching her before an election campaign event in 2014.

“I was mortified," Flores, 39, told the New York magazine. "He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head," she added.

"My brain couldn't process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused," and "I wanted nothing more than to get Biden away from me," she added.

"Even if his behavior wasn't violent or sexual, it was demeaning and disrespectful.”

The accusation has prompted some Democrats to question whether the 76-year-old is too out of step with his own party to run a successful 2020 presidential campaign.

Flores' account of the incident comes at a crucial moment for Biden, who’s wrestling for months with a final decision on whether to run for president.

Biden still leads in most early polls, as he benefits from broad name recognition generated during his eight years as US vice president in the administration of former President Barack Obama.

Given his experience and appeal with white working-class voters in Midwestern battleground states, he's also seen by some Democrats as the best-positioned candidate to defeat US President Donald Trump.

None of Biden's potential White House rivals defended him following Flores' allegations and some said that her claim should be taken seriously.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren said she believed Flores and that Biden "needs to give an answer" about what occurred.

Flores, a former Nevada state representative and the 2014 Democratic nominee for Nevada lieutenant governor, told The Associated Press on Sunday that she had been mulling coming forward for years.

Biden has drawn attention in the past for his intimate touching of political allies, their family members and even supporters he has just met — gestures that are seen as excessive to the point of creepy by some but viewed as harmless by his defenders.

He has had a reputation for awkwardly touching the wives, mothers or daughters of senators during swearing-in ceremonies, and he came under criticism for massaging the shoulders of then defense secretary Ash Carter's wife in 2015.

However, his behavior is receiving renewed attention in the #MeToo era, when the movement against sexual assault has led to the downfall of dozens of politicians, entertainment figures and businessmen.

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