Former Vice President Joe Biden, speaking publicly for the first time since several women have said his hands-on approach made them uncomfortable, cracked a joke about their complaints at the start of an event Friday.

“I just want you to know, I had permission to hug Lonnie,” Biden joked after embracing International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers president Lonnie Stephenson as he began a speech to IBEW workers in Washington D.C.

At start of his address to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Joe Biden jokes, “I just want you to know, I had permission to hug Lonnie.”
– This Week (@ThisWeekABC) April 5, 2019

Later in the speech, the Delaware Democrat invited several children on stage and shook their hands. As they were leaving, the former vice president put his arm around a young boy and joked to the crowd, “He gave me permission to touch him, all right?”

“Everyone knows I like kids better than people,” Biden added.

“I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I’m not sorry for anything that I have ever done. I have never been disrespectful intentionally to a man or a woman,” Joe Biden said

Biden didn’t otherwise address the women’s claims of unwanted touching in the about-30-minute speech, instead talking about labor unions, the economy, and how Wall Street exploits workers.

Putting his arm around young boy on stage at IBEW conference, Joe Biden says, “By the way, he gave me permission to touch him.”
— Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) April 5, 2019

The speech by the potential 2020 presidential candidate came after several women have come forward to say the former vice president made them feel uncomfortable with the affectionate and hands-on personal style that has become his trademark over the years.

Former Nevada lawmaker Lucy Flores accused Biden of inappropriately smelling her hair and kissing her on the back of her head in 2014. Caitlyn Caruso told the New York Times Biden put his hand on her thigh and hugged her “just a little bit too long” during an event about sexual assault in 2016.

Other women have come out in defense of Biden. Stephanie Carter, the wife of former defense secretary Ash Carter, said a viral photo of Biden whispering in her hear in 2015 was “misleadingly extracted” and taken out of context. Margaret Aitken, who served as Biden’s press secretary for 10 years, wrote in an op-ed in the Delaware News Journal that she “never once saw anything that even came close to resembling something inappropriate.”

“I’ll always believe governing, and quite frankly, life, for that matter, is about connecting, is about connecting with people,” Biden said in a video earlier this week. “That won’t change, but I will be more mindful, respectful of people’s personal space. And that’s a good thing. I worked my whole life to empower women. I worked my whole life to prevent abuse.”

Social norms are changing. I understand that, and I’ve heard what these women are saying. Politics to me has always been about making connections, but I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future. That’s my responsibility and I will meet it.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) April 3, 2019

The video was quickly mocked by President Donald Trump on Twitter, who has been accused of various degrees of sexual misconduct and admitted to grabbing women without their consent on a now-famous Access Hollywood tape from 2005.

On Friday morning, ahead of his trip to the southern border, Trump was asked by a reporter if he was the right messenger when it came to criticizing Biden.

“Yeah, I think I’m a good messenger,” Trump said, claiming people “got a kick out” of his Twitter post mocking Biden. “He’s going through a situation — let’s see what happens. You’ve got to sort-of smile a little bit, right?”



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