He’s not even a candidate yet, but former Vice President Joe Biden’s facing the first real crisis of his likely 2020 White House campaign.
The allegations from 2014 Nevada Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Lucy Flores that Biden made her feel "uneasy, gross, and confused" at a campaign rally when she said he kissed her on the back of the head quickly went viral this weekend, as Biden faced a high-profile #MeToo controversy.
The former vice president, in a statement, said he never believed he “acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully.”
With a likely 2020 announcement just weeks away, several former female Biden aides and allies quickly came to his defense, praising his conduct in appearances on the cable news networks. And an adviser close to the former vice president -- who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely -- told Fox News on Monday that the Flores allegations “won’t change things one way or another.”
Asked if the news would slow down Biden’s decision-making process, the adviser answered: “Absolutely not.” The source added that a Biden announcement could likely come in late April – after Easter – or soon afterward.
So far, Biden has led the pack in many early 2020 polls, including a recent Fox News poll.
Flores went public with her allegations in an essay published in New York Magazine on Friday afternoon. In an interview Monday on MSNBC, she described the alleged incident as “unwanted, it was shocking, because of the power difference.”
And she stressed that “there was no personal relationship there. There was nothing that any person would have considered normal in that interaction.”
With the story grabbing the media spotlight during the weekend, and an initial response from his team doing little to quell the controversy, Biden put out his own statement on Sunday.
“We have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention,” Biden wrote.
And he vowed: “I will.”
Responding to his statement, Flores said that “he said that he was willing to listen. And I hope that he is.”
But she added that she had yet to hear from the former vice president or his team.
Flores explained that she finally went public with her allegations because of the rise of the #MeToo movement and Biden’s move toward launching a presidential campaign. “I felt that this type of behavior was not being taken seriously,” she added.
Flores, who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2016 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and who attended the campaign kickoff of former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas -- both 2020 presidential candidates -- said that “personally I do not believe that [Biden] should run.”
But responding to questions about her affiliations, Flores said that “this is in no way politically motivated.”
As the story gathered steam over the weekend, some of candidates Biden would face off against if he launches a campaign said they had no reason not to believe the allegations from Flores. Among them was former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who called the claims from Flores “very disconcerting.”
A top White House adviser suggested that Biden could face serious obstacles if he goes ahead with a Democratic presidential nomination bid.
“I think Joe Biden has a big problem because he calls it affection and handshakes,” Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, said on "Fox News Sunday." “His party calls it completely inappropriate.”
Biden for years has drawn attention for his sometimes-awkward embraces of politicians and their family members. While the gestures have been defended as harmless by his supporters, they’ve been seen as excessive by others, especially with the rise of the #MeToo movement.
Pointing to so-called ‘creepy Joe Biden’ websites with videos of Biden’s past behavior touching women at public events, Flores said that “it is an honest narrative. This is not the first time that that term has been referenced.”
One such incident was the 2015 swearing-in of Defense Secretary Ash Carter, where Biden put his hands on Carter’s wife’s shoulders and whispered something into her ear. Carter’s wife, Stephanie, defended Biden in an online posting this weekend.
Referencing Flores, she wrote: “I absolutely support her right to speak her truth and she should be, like all women, believed. But her story is not mine. The Joe Biden in my picture is a close friend helping someone get through a big day, for which I will always be grateful."
In another well-publicized video from January 2015, the daughter of Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware appeared slightly uncomfortable as Biden kissed her on the head and whispered in her ear during her father’s Senate swearing-in ceremony.
Sen. Coons later defended the then-vice president at the time, saying at the time that his daughter didn’t “think that the vice president is creepy.”
Pushing back against the renewed scrutiny of both of those videos, Biden spokesman Bill Russo said Monday that “the important conversation about these issues are not advanced, nor are any criticisms of Vice President Biden validated, by the continued misrepresentation of the Carter and Coons moments, or a failure to be vigilant about a cottage industry of lies.”
Fox News' Mike Emanuel contributed to this report.