Joe Biden denies inappropriate behaviour after Lucy Flores's accusation

A former Nevada Democratic assemblywoman has detailed an unwanted encounter with former U.S. vice president Joe Biden, but he says he doesn't believe he has ever acted inappropriately toward women.

Former U.S. VP doesn't recall incident described by fellow Democrat

Lucy Flores, a Democrat who left her Nevada State Assembly seat to run what turned out to be an unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor, introduces then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at a get-out-the-vote rally on Nov. 1, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nev. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden says he doesn't believe he ever acted inappropriately toward women but will "listen respectfully" to suggestions he did.

Biden, who is deciding whether to join the 2020 presidential race, faces allegations from a former member of the Nevada State Assembly that he kissed her on the back of the head in 2014 and made her uncomfortable.

In a statement released Sunday, Biden says: "In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. 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."

Lucy Flores outlined the allegation in an online essay published on Friday.

The Democratic party activist, says the "awkward" incident occurred in Las Vegas as she and Biden were lined up to go on stage at a campaign rally. At the time she was 35 and the Democratic nominee for Nevada lieutenant governor. She later lost that race to the Republican candidate in the Nov. 4 U.S. elections.

Flores said Biden put his two hands on her shoulders from behind, sniffed her hair and then planted a kiss on the back of her head.

"He leaned further in and inhaled my hair," she wrote. "I was mortified. I thought to myself, "I didn't wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it."

'I couldn't move'

"He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head," Flores wrote in the essay published in The Cut, an outlet of New York Magazine. "I couldn't move and I couldn't say anything. I wanted nothing more than to get Biden away from me."

Bill Russo, a spokesperson for Biden, said on Saturday that the former vice-president does not recall the incident.

Responding to the accusation, Russo said Biden had been happy to support Flores and to speak on her behalf at the 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," Russo said on Friday in a statement.

Biden believes Flores has every right to share her own recollection, Russo added, and that it is a positive change for U.S. society that she has the opportunity.

Others back Biden

Several women who worked for Biden stepped forward over the weekend to vouch for his character.

Stephanie Carter, the wife of former Defence Secretary Ash Carter, disputed characterizations of her interactions with Biden during her husband's swearing-in ceremony. Pictures of the then-vice-president whispering in Carter's ear and placing his hands on her shoulders ricocheted across the internet at the time.

"The Joe Biden in my picture is a close friend helping someone get through a big day, for which I will always be grateful," Carter wrote in a post on the website Medium.

Carter said she wrote the post to "reclaim" her story from those with other motives.

In a statement on Saturday, Russo said: "People know Joe Biden and they know his character, his integrity and his values," adding that he was a champion for women.

Biden served eight years as vice-president under former President Barack Obama and 36 years in the U.S. Senate. He has not yet said whether he will run for president in 2020, but has been expected to throw his hat into the ring soon.

Some of his potential rivals for the Democratic party's nomination addressed the allegation on Saturday.

Elizabeth Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, told reporters in Iowa that she believed Flores.

"Joe Biden needs to give an answer," Warren said.

Julian Castro, a former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development from Texas who is also running for president, said he also found Flores credible, according to news reports.

A 2015 picture of Biden with Stephanie Carter, wife of Ash Carter, has been circulated on the internet as the former vice-president faces questions about his behaviour around women. But on the weekend Stephanie Carter wrote to defend Biden and state there was nothing untoward about the picture in question. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Flores supported Bernie Sanders in his losing 2016 bid for the Democratic nomination. Although the U.S. Senator from Vermont is running again, Flores has said on Twitter that she has not endorsed any of the candidates in this race.

Should Biden decide to run in 2020, after failed bids to be the party's nominee in 1988 and 2008, he will be a key figure in the Democratic debate over whether a liberal political newcomer or a centrist veteran is needed to win back the White House.

With files from Reuters and CBC News