Pelosi says Biden should stop being touchy-feely with women

WASHINGTON (AP) — As former Vice President Joe Biden's camp scrambles to contain any political damage over his past behavior with women, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has some words of advice: Keep your distance.

"Join the straight-arm club," Pelosi told a breakfast hour Washington event on Tuesday.

In other words, keep your handshakes at arms' length and don't be touchy-feely.

"Just pretend you have a cold and I have a cold," Pelosi said.

Pelosi, D-Calif., told the event, which was sponsored by Politico, that Biden "has to understand that in the world we are in now people's space is important to them and what's important is how they receive it, not necessarily how you intended it."

Her remarks came as Biden's aides are striking a more aggressive tone as he considers running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and faces scrutiny over his past behavior toward women.

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (C) takes the oath of office from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as his wife Jill Biden holds the family bible and family members look on at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington January 20, 2013. Shown are R. Hunter Biden (front row), Maisy Biden (black cardigan), Noami Biden (red shirt), Finnegan Biden (maroon and black dress), Natalie Biden (front row, purple dress), Kathleen Biden, Hunter Biden, Ashley Biden, Howard Krein, Beau Biden and Hallie Biden.

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden joined by his family members walk along the national road named after his late son Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III, in the village of Sojevo, Kosovo, August 17, 2016. President Joe Biden is the guest of honor during the street dedication ceremony naming the national road Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III.

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) talks with his son, U.S. Army Capt Beau Biden, at Camp Victory on the outskirts of Baghdad July 4, 2009. Biden met U.S. troops preparing to mark their Independence Day holiday on Saturday, on the third day of a visit he has used to urge Iraqi politicians to do more to reconcile rival factions.

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) is joined by his wife Jill Biden (4th L) and their family for remarks at a volunteer project to assemble care kits for U.S. military service members and veterans at a Unite America in Service event at the National Guard Armory in Washington, January 19, 2013. Biden and his family volunteered for the event during the National Day of Service as part of the 57th Presidential Inauguration.

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden walks with his sons Beau (L) and Hunter (2nd R) and his wife Jill down Pennsylvania Avenue during the inaugural parade in Washington January 20, 2009.

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) holds hands with his wife Jill along with relatives as they walk on a road named after their late son Joseph 'Beau' Bide in the village of Sojevo on August 17, 2016. Biden said that the United States would remain a 'champion' of an independent Kosovo, but he firmly warned its leaders against the 'cancer' of corruption. On his first visit to Kosovo since 2009 -- the year after it unilaterally declared independence from Serbia -- Biden held talks with President Hashim Thaci and other leaders before a dedication ceremony naming a road after his late son.

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US vice president Joe Biden (C) walks with his son in law Howard Krien (L) during a visit to a local food court in Singapore on July 26, 2013. Biden is on a two-day official visit to Singapore after India where officials say he will tackle tensions over the disputed South China Sea 'head on.'

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US Vice President Joe Biden (3rd L) and his three grandchildren look at a koala during a visit to Taronga Zoo in Sydney on July 19, 2016. US and Australian troops plan to step up training so they are 'fully prepared' to answer challenges in the Pacific, Biden said amid rising tensions over Beijing's claims in the South China Sea.

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PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 13: Dr. Jill Biden and her grand-daughter Natalie Biden try samples of food as they meet with students and staff during a visit to the Lycee Guillaume Tirel on June 13, 2016 in Paris, France. The college serves as a school for cooking and hotel services.

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U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden, carrying his grandson Hunter Biden, departs following a Sunday morning service at Holy Trinity Church, a Roman Catholic congregation in Washington, January 18, 2009.

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Second lady Dr. Jill Biden and her grand-daughter Natalie attend mass at Notre-Dame Cathedral on June 12, 2016 in Paris, France.

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Vice-President Joe Biden and sons Hunter Biden (L) and Beau Biden walk in the Inaugural Parade January 20, 2009 in Washington, DC. Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, becoming the first African-American to be elected President of the US.

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Vice President of the United States Joe Biden, wife and Second Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden and family members attend University Of Pennsylvania Commencement keynote address delivered by Lin Manuel Miranda during University of Pennsylvania 260th Commencement Ceremony at Franklin Field at the University of Pennsylvania on May 16, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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US Vice President Joe Biden (C) leaves the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with his family on March 9, 2016 during his visit in Jerusalem's Old City.

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Vice President of the United States Joe Biden (C), his wife Dr. Jill Biden (C-L), and his granddaughter Naomi Biden (C-R) visit Arasta Bazaar, at Sultan Ahmed in Istanbul, Turkey on January 22, 2016.

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US Vice President Joe Biden (2nd L) stands with his daughter Ashley Biden (L), his wife Jill Biden (2nd R) and son-in-law Howard Krien (R) after being being presented with a new orchid hybrid plant (pictured C) named 'Joe and Jill Biden' during a visit to the National Orchid Garden in Singapore on July 26, 2013. Biden is on a two-day official visit to Singapore after India where officials say he will tackle tensions over the disputed South China Sea 'head on.'

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill wave as they listen to Biden's son, Beau Biden, address the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 6, 2012.

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden as he is greeted by his daughter Ashley before accepting a Father of the Year award in New York, U.S., June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Joe Biden (L) is sworn in as the Vice President of the U.S by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (not in photo) as the Biden children Beau (R), Hunter (C), and Ashley watch in Washington, January 20, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (2nd L) and his wife Jill Biden (2nd R), pose for a photo with their daughter Ashley and son-in-law Dr. Howard Krein in front of an orchid named "Dendrobium Joe and Jill Biden" in their honour, at the National Orchid Garden in Singapore July 26, 2013. REUTERS/Tim Chong (SINGAPORE - Tags: POLITICS ENVIRONMENT)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 7: Ashley Biden and Joe Biden attend Gilt x Livelihood Launch Event at 6 St. John's Lane on February 7, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Aurora Rose/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
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In a statement on Monday, Biden spokesman Bill Russo blasted "right wing trolls" from "the dark recesses of the internet" for conflating images of Biden embracing acquaintances, colleagues and friends in his official capacity during swearing-in ceremonies with uninvited touching.

Two women have said Biden touched them inappropriately in the past. Amy Lappos, a former aide to Democratic Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, said Monday that Biden touched her face with both hands and rubbed noses in 2009. Former Nevada politician Lucy Flores penned a magazine essay last week in which she wrote that Biden kissed her on the back of the head in 2014.

The developments underscored the challenge facing Biden should he decide to seek the White House. Following historic wins in the 2018 midterms, Democratic politics is dominated by energy from women. The allegations could leave the 76-year-old Biden, long known for his affectionate mannerisms, appearing out of touch with the party as the Democratic presidential primary begins.

Lappos told The Associated Press that she and other Himes aides were helping out at a fundraiser in a private home in Hartford, Connecticut, in October 2009 when Biden entered the kitchen to thank the group for pitching in.

"After he finished speaking, he stopped to talk to us about how important a congressional staff is, which I thought was awesome," Lappos said.

She said she was stunned as Biden moved toward her.

"He wrapped both his hands around my face and pulled me in," said Lappos, who is now 43. "I thought, 'Oh, God, he's going to kiss me.' Instead, he rubbed noses with me."

Biden said nothing, she said, then moved off.

She said the experience left her feeling "weird and uncomfortable" and was "absolutely disrespectful of my personal boundaries."

The Hartford Courant first reported Lappos' assertion.

Russo, Biden's spokesman, didn't directly respond to Lappos, instead referring to a Sunday statement in which Biden said he doesn't believe he has acted inappropriately during his long public life. The former vice president said in that statement: "We have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will."

Biden hasn't made a final decision on whether to run for the White House. But aides who weren't authorized to discuss internal conversations and spoke on the condition of anonymity said there were no signs that his team was slowing its preparations for a campaign.

Asked on Monday by the AP about the accusations against Biden, Pelosi said, "I don't think that this disqualifies him from running for president, not at all."

Biden's potential Democratic rivals haven't rushed to back him up. Over the weekend, presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand came closest to calling out the former vice president. Warren, a Massachusetts senator, said Biden "needs to give an answer" about what occurred. Gillibrand, a New York senator, said, "If Vice President Biden becomes a candidate, this is a topic he'll have to engage on further."

Ultraviolet, a women's advocacy group, tweeted: "Joe Biden cannot paint himself as a champion of women and then refuse to listen and learn from a woman who says his actions demeaned her. Good intentions don't matter if the actions are inappropriate. Do better, Joe. And thank you @LucyFlores for coming forward."

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Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa. AP Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to show the congressman's surname is Himes, not Hines.

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