Despite Joe Biden’s video apology/promise to do better, which he posted to Twitter yesterday, three more women came forward to The Washington Post, alleging that the former vice president inappropriately touched them, making them uncomfortable. It seems like women are coming forward in larger numbers and more frequently. The number of women who have come forward about Biden’s behavior is now seven. And these latest women don’t feel any better after his video comments Wednesday.
Vail Kohnert-Yount said she was a White House intern in the spring of 2013 and one day tried to exit the basement of the West Wing when she was asked to step aside so Biden could enter. After she moved out of the way, she said, Biden approached her to introduce himself and shake her hand.
“He then put his hand on the back of my head and pressed his forehead to my forehead while he talked to me. I was so shocked that it was hard to focus on what he was saying. I remember he told me I was a ‘pretty girl,’ ” Kohnert-Yount said in a statement to The Post.
She described feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed that Biden had commented on her appearance in a professional setting, “even though it was intended as a compliment.”
According to Kohnert-Yount, while she didn’t consider her experience to rise to the level of sexual assault or harassment, “it was the kind of inappropriate behavior that makes many women feel uncomfortable and unequal in the workplace.”
Another woman, Sofie Karasek, had appeared onstage with 50 other sexual assault victims and Lady Gaga at the Oscars in 2016. Vice President Biden had introduced Lady Gaga’s performance.
Karasek said as she met Biden after the ceremony, she was thinking about a college student who had been sexually assaulted and recently died by suicide. She decided to share the story with the then-vice president, and Biden responded by clasping her hands and leaning down to place his forehead against hers, a moment captured in a widely circulated photograph.
Karasek said she appreciated Biden’s support but also felt awkward and uncomfortable that his gesture had left their faces suddenly inches apart. She said she did not know how to respond to, as she described it, Biden crossing the boundary into her personal space at a sensitive moment.
In his video, Biden “still didn’t take ownership in the way that he needs to,” said Karasek. “He emphasized that he wants to connect with people and, of course, that’s important. But again, all of our interactions and friendships are a two-way street. … Too often it doesn’t matter how the woman feels about it or they just assume that they’re fine with it.”
The third woman who spoke with The Washington Post, Ally Coll, told her story from the 2008 election cycle.
Ally Coll said she was a young Democratic staffer helping run a reception of about 50 people when Biden entered the room. She said she was then introduced to Biden, who she said leaned in, squeezed her shoulders and delivered a compliment about her smile, holding her “for a beat too long.”
Coll, who runs the Purple Campaign, a nonprofit group that fights sexual harassment, said she felt nervous and excited about meeting Biden at the time and shrugged off feelings of discomfort. She says now that she felt his alleged behavior was out of place and inappropriate in the context of a work situation.
“There’s been a lack of understanding about the way that power can turn something that might seem innocuous into something that can make somebody feel uncomfortable,” said Coll, who consults with companies about their workplace policies.
According to Coll, Biden’s video demonstrated “a continued lack of understanding about why these stories are being told and their relevance in the #MeToo era.”
It was clear to me yesterday that Biden’s video wasn’t going to be enough to satisfy women who felt his behavior was inappropriate. He simply tried to write off his behavior as being misunderstood, while lumping what he’s been accused of doing with handshakes, hugs and shoulder grabs. No matter what he says, if he jumps in the race for president this problem won’t go away.
Matt Margolis is the author of The Scandalous Presidency of Barack Obama and the bestselling The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. His new book, Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy, will be published in 2019. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis