Vice President Joe Biden has made news — again — with his surprisingly intimate embrace of a woman not his wife in a public setting. The incident occurred Tuesday at the Washington swearing-in of new Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. As Carter spoke, Biden, standing behind Carter's wife Stephanie, put his hands on her shoulders for an extended period of time and briefly buried his face in her hair.
Some critics noted that such behavior might earn a sexual harassment complaint if it were in a business setting. And it turns out Biden himself, in his many years as a senator, supported legislation to get tough on men who touch women in inappropriate ways.
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"There is no circumstance under which a man has a right to touch a woman without her consent other than self-defense," Biden said in October 2000 in relation to the Violence Against Women Act. "We are changing the attitudes of America about what constitutes appropriate behavior on the part of a man with a woman."
A few years earlier, in May 1993, Biden said, "No man has a right to touch a woman without her consent, and that's what we've got to get across."
Of course Biden's comments included sex crimes like rape, but also broadened definitions of inappropriate touching that have come to be commonly applied in the workplace. Now, a number of critics are asking whether Biden himself is behaving in ways that contradict his words in the past.