"Not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately," Joe Biden said in a statement
Former Vice President Joe Biden has denied allegations that he “acted inappropriately” toward former Nevada politician Lucy Flores, who claims the Democrat touched her shoulders and kissed the back of her head without consent in 2014.
Biden, 76, denied the allegation in a statement to NBC News in which he admitted to public “expressions of affection,” but nothing more.
“In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort,” Biden 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. I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear.”
The former Delaware senator continued by saying he will “remain the strongest advocate” he can be for women’s rights.
“But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention,” he said. “And I will. I will also remain the strongest advocate I can be for the rights of women. I will fight to build on the work I’ve done in my career to end violence against women and ensure women are treated with the equality they deserve. I will continue to surround myself with trusted women advisers who challenge me to see different perspectives than my own. And I will continue to speak out on these vitally-important issues where there is much more progress to be made and crucial fights that must be waged and won.”
Biden’s office did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Biden’s statement comes after a spokesperson for the politician told the Washington Post and other outlets Friday that while the allegations should be taken seriously, Biden does not remember the incident.
“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,” the spokesperson said. “But Vice President Biden believes that Ms. Flores has every right to share her own recollection and reflections, and that it is a change for better in our society that she has the opportunity to do so. He respects Ms. Flores as a strong and independent voice in our politics and wishes her only the best.”
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Flores took her accusation public in an article published Friday by The Cut.
She claimed it occurred in November 2014, when Biden, who was then vice president, attended a campaign rally to support her and fellow Democratic candidates. At the time, she was 35 and running for lieutenant governor in Nevada.
As speakers at the rally lined up backstage before the event, Flores says she felt Biden touch both of her shoulders and kiss her on the back of the head.
“As I was taking deep breaths and preparing myself to make my case to the crowd, I felt two hands on my shoulders,” Flores wrote. “I froze. ‘Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?’ “
“I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair,” she continued. “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. And also, what in the actual f—? Why is the vice-president of the United States smelling my hair?’”
Flores added: “He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused.”
Flores wrote in her piece that, as a young Latina in the political world, she was used to feeling like an “outsider” in rooms that predominantly featured white men, but up until her alleged encounter with Biden, “had never experienced anything so blatantly inappropriate and unnerving before.”
“Biden was the second-most powerful man in the country and, arguably, one of the most powerful men in the world,” Flores continued. “He was there to promote me as the right person for the lieutenant governor job. Instead, he made me feel uneasy, gross, and confused. The vice-president of the United States of America had just touched me in an intimate way reserved for close friends, family, or romantic partners — and I felt powerless to do anything about it.”
“I’ll be as straight with you as I can: I think I’m the most qualified person in the country to be president,” he said during a December appearance at the University of Montana. “The issues that we face as a country today are the issues that have been in my wheelhouse, that I’ve worked on my whole life.”