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He kissed a senator’s wife on the lips. He joked about the attractiveness of several senators’ teenage daughters and granddaughters. And he told a female senator to “spread her legs” because she was “going to be frisked.”
A #MeToo moment?
That’s not how it was seen at the time. No, that was just Joe Biden, hamming it up as he swore in the new senators. In his time as vice president, the ceremony became an annual spectacle in Washington, with his behavior even earning an affectionate nickname: “Bidening.”
Those jokes, hugs and kisses may look different now. An essay published Friday night by Lucy Flores, a former Nevada legislator, that accuses Mr. Biden of leaning into her, smelling her hair and kissing her head in a way that made her uncomfortable at a 2014 campaign rally, has thrust the possible presidential candidate into a major generational reckoning.
Mr. Biden entered the Senate in 1973 — before abortion was legal, before the Watergate hearings, before VCRs, before the Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was born, and certainly before any serious national conversation about consent.
Whether the 76-year-old Mr. Biden can get right with his party’s current mores around race and gender may be the most fraught question hanging over his presidential aspirations.
In the #MeToo era, we talk a lot about “open secrets.” But Mr. Biden’s touchy-feely behavior wasn’t a secret at all. It was photographed, televised and widely discussed. And, for years, it was viewed as a political asset. Mr. Biden was a skilled retail politician, according to the conventional wisdom, someone who could work a room, charm a crowd, win them over booth by booth in a New Hampshire diner.
This weekend’s accusations could transform that strength into a weakness.
In response to Ms. Flores’s account, Mr. Biden said he didn’t believe he had ever acted inappropriately in public life but was willing to “listen respectfully” to those who may feel differently. Ms. Flores flipped the frame, saying Mr. Biden’s perception didn’t matter: How his actions made her feel was more important. “Frankly, my point was never about his intentions, and they shouldn’t be about his intentions,” she said in an interview with CNN. “It should be about the women on the receiving end of that behavior.”
Now, the political world finds itself litigating a series of thorny questions. Does intent matter? Are we allowed to think that a back-of-head kiss is “not as bad” as a mouth kiss, even though they are both kind of gross? Can a progressive male politician issue a denial, while still saying he believes women?
The debate, which should come as no surprise to Mr. Biden or his team if they’ve been following the news over the past two years, will ultimately be decided by voters, should Mr. Biden jump into the race.
Last month, Mr. Biden referred to himself as a “tactile politician” during a speech in Dover, Del., arguing that the skill helped him understand voters. Whether he understands the political moment, though, remains an open question.
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Wisconsin votes on its Supreme Court
It’s Election Day Eve in Wisconsin!
The Supreme Court race on the ballot Tuesday won’t change the conservative majority on the state’s highest court. But it will tell us something about the political mood in a key battleground state that Democrats lost by a little more than 22,000 votes in 2016 and carried two years later.
While Supreme Court races are technically nonpartisan affairs, they’ve become heavily politicized events, with millions of dollars pouring in from political groups. In this year’s contest, conservatives back Judge Brian Hagedorn and liberals are behind Judge Lisa Neubauer.
The candidates faced off in a bitter debate last month that featured accusations of lying and questions of temperament.
A win by Judge Neubauer would leave liberals in a strong position to retake control of the court the next time a seat comes up in 2020, when Democrats typically benefit from the larger turnout of a presidential year. The court could face several big political decisions, including questions around the redistricting that will follow the 2020 census and determine the makeup of congressional districts.
Turnout for Supreme Court elections is typically around 20 percent, less than half that of a race for governor. Still, political strategists will be watching to try to extrapolate trends about motivation, enthusiasm, and the energy of Democratic and Republican voters in the state. One area to pay attention to: suburban counties outside Milwaukee that typically vote Republican but have shown some erosion during the Trump era.
What to read tonight
• Chicago will vote Tuesday on a runoff election for mayor. It’s destined to make history: No matter which candidate wins, Chicago will become the largest U.S. city ever to elect an African-American woman as its mayor.
• How is the Trump era molding the next generation of voters? Surveys reveal teenagers to be anxious about the country and likely to embrace liberal views, even when identifying as Republican.
• Hey, governor, what are you wearing? The Times’s chief fashion critic reflects on the news that J.B. Pritzker, the governor of Illinois, gets daily style recommendations.
“Surrounded by rats, black trash bags and graffiti-tagged storefronts on Broadway Street, New York’s primary thoroughfare, I wondered aloud if I would be able to find a decent meal in what was surely a culinary heart of darkness.”
For April Fools’ Day, The Los Angeles Times gives us a taste of our own medicine, with a trip to the exotic city of New York to sample the local delicacies like “pizza” and “bagels.”
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