AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Former Vice President Joe Biden has not yet announced whether he will be running for president. But he is already facing controversy. A former Democratic assemblywoman in Nevada, Lucy Flores, recounted a 2014 encounter she calls inappropriate and embarrassing. She alleges Biden grabbed her shoulders, smelled her hair and planted a kiss on her head. In a statement, Biden says he's offered countless, quote, "expressions of affection." But he believes he has never acted inappropriately.
NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben has been following all of this and joins us now. Hey, Danielle.
DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: So these allegations from Flores, they're quite nuanced, right? Can you just...
CHANG: ...Lay out exactly what she is alleging against Biden?
KURTZLEBEN: Right. So like you sort of got at in that intro, in 2014, she was a candidate for - to be the lieutenant governor of Nevada. She was a Democrat. And, of course, Joe Biden was then the vice president. And he offered to come to a campaign event with her. So she said at this event, she was about to take the stage when he came up behind her, put his hands on her shoulders. And I'm going to use her words here. She wrote an essay on thecut.com about this. She said, quote, "he leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified." And she later added, "he proceeded to plant a big, slow kiss on the back of my head."
Now, like you said, these are nuanced allegations. What she also said of them is even if his behavior wasn't violent or sexual, it was demeaning and disrespectful. And so she also got at her feelings about this, which is that she felt uneasy, gross and confused. Those are her words again. And we should also add that a second woman, by the name of Amy Lappos, she has also come forward. She spoke to the Hartford Courant. She alleges a similar incident in 2009. She said that Vice President Biden pulled her in to rub noses with her. She said it was not sexual, but it was unacceptable.
CHANG: OK, well, we mentioned that Biden acknowledges he gets close to people but that he doesn't believe he has ever been inappropriate. What else has he or his team said about all of these allegations?
KURTZLEBEN: Well, they've both had a few things to say. He has really been vigorously pushing back against this. In a statement this weekend, vice - then vice - or former Vice President Biden said he never believed he acted appropriately. But if anyone says he did, he will, quote, "listen respectfully." And he also referenced his work on combating violence against women.
KURTZLEBEN: His team, likewise, pointed to an incident with Stephanie Carter. She is the wife of former Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Now, this is another incident that has gotten a lot of attention since this weekend. There was an event where they were announcing Ash Carter's nomination to be the secretary of defense. Joe Biden beckoned Stephanie Carter on stage, put his hands on her shoulders and seemed to lean down and kind of whisper something into her ear, got very close to her.
But in a post on medium.com, Stephanie Carter this weekend said she was fine with it, that it's not the #MeToo moment that some are construing it as. Of course, a distinction here is that she knew Biden, and Flores didn't at the time.
CHANG: Yeah. Now, I know you were at a big event today where several Democratic candidates for president - these would be Biden's rivals if he does jump in...
CHANG: ...They were talking with activists. Did these allegations come up at all?
KURTZLEBEN: No, it really didn't come up much. I mean, this - and this was an event, I should say, focused on big policy matters. A lot of the big Democratic interest groups were there - you know, unions, Planned Parenthood, that sort of thing.
KURTZLEBEN: And so this was an event that was really focused on questions about unions, immigration, workers rights, policy issues. Now, that said, I did speak with a handful of voters to ask them about it. And it really did surprise me. Most of the ones I spoke to hadn't heard this story yet. Now, while that's not...
KURTZLEBEN: ...A scientific survey, me walking around...
CHANG: Sure (laughter).
KURTZLEBEN: ...And talking to a handful of people, what it does suggest is that this story, it's gotten a lot of attention. But it hasn't permeated the national attention in a big way, at least - even among these really active Democratic voters. What I will say is that one woman who had heard of it, she told me she wasn't sure what to make of this story. But she said that she has a problem with Biden anyway and that she thinks he's too old to run for president. She thinks the party needs fresh blood.
CHANG: Well, just really quickly, ultimately does it seem like these allegations are damaging enough to keep Biden from running?
KURTZLEBEN: I mean, I can't get into his head. But one thing I can say is, you know, this isn't coming in a vacuum. We had this one voter who told me she thinks he's too old. There are people who are uncomfortable with how he handled the Anita Hill hearings way back when that happened. Some voters may not find him progressive enough. So even if this one event doesn't make his supporters pull a 180, it could break the camel's back for some people.
CHANG: That's NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben. Thanks, Danielle.
KURTZLEBEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.