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The People

“FINGERTIP POLITICIAN”: Joe Biden is in the hot seat even before his expected entrance into the 2020 presidential race over what some say is his overly touchy style.

After Lucy Flores, a former Nevada state legislator and lieutenant governor candidate, penned a piece for New York magazine describing her uncomfortable experience with the former vice president at a 2014 campaign rally, the 76-year-old political veteran's self-described “tactile” style is being called into question in the era of #MeToo.

  • “My piece is not about insinuating that I was someone who was a traumatized victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” Flores said. “What I did feel was an invasion of my bodily autonomy, an invasion of my space . . . You don’t expect to be touched and kissed and caressed by the vice president of the United States. In no circumstance is that appropriate,” Flores told The Post’s Elise Viebeck, Colby Itkowitz, Michael Scherer and Matt Viser on Sunday.

  • “What Lucy Flores so bravely did is say, ‘This is the way he made me feel,’” Democratic strategist Rebecca Katz told the Associated Press’s Julie Pace and Thomas Beaumont. “No one has ever done that before with Joe Biden.”

Biden released a statement on Sunday, denying Flores’s retelling of their encounter but vowed to “pay attention.”

  • “I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear,” Biden stated. “But 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 being Biden”: A steady trickle of female associates, former staffers and friends came out in support of Biden after Flores’s piece, defending the former senator's character, intentions and conduct.

  • Stephanie Carter, the wife of incoming Defense Secretary Ash Carter at the time, published a blog post on Medium on Sunday night about a photo that went viral of Biden holding her shoulders from behind and whispering in her ear during her husband’s swearing-in ceremony.

  • Carter wrote the moment was that of “a close friend helping someone get through a big day.” She took Biden’s physical contact “as a means of offering his support,” she wrote.

  • But: “People close to Biden expressed concerns about a proliferation of photoshopped images of him and women on the Internet that make his behavior look overtly sexual. The photos have been circulated by conservative figures and websites,” per Elise, Colby, Michael and Matt.

An electability problem?: A handful of 2020 Democratic candidates weighed in on Flores’s encounter, deferring questions of Biden’s electability to the American people. None of the candidates said Biden's alleged behavior was okay.

  • “Lucy Flores felt demeaned, and that is never okay. If Vice President Biden becomes a candidate, this is a topic he’ll have to engage on further,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said.

Biden is currently ahead of the pack in most early polls. But Flores’s account calls into question other moments in Biden’s storied career involving difficult issues at the intersection of gender and power.

  • “The allegation came shortly after Mr. Biden faced criticism for saying he wished he 'could have done something' when Anita Hill accused Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment — even though he led the Senate committee that questioned her — leading some in his party to brace for an extended reckoning about Mr. Biden and gender if he enters the race,” the New York Times’s Sydney Ember and Jonathan Martin report.

  • “Maybe Biden and other male politicians should observe their female counterparts,” feminist Gloria Steinem told Ember and Martin, adding that since “female candidates are unlikely to hug and kiss men they don’t know, male politicians could refrain from hugging and kissing women they don’t know.”

  • “I can just see what’s coming at him,” Nancy Bobo, an Iowa activist who supported Barack Obama early on in the state, told the AP. “And it’s going to come at him from the Democrats.”

 

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At the White House

NO BIG TRUMP BUMP AFTER MUELLER PROBE ENDS: President Trump declared “complete and total exoneration” after the end of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe. So far, the American public has responded with a complete ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. 

Trump's approval rating has held steady in the week since Attorney General Bill Barr announced the end to the Russia investigation. Barr later removed the threat of future indictments from this particular case, concluded controversially that Trump did not obstruct justice and also told the world that Mueller found no evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.

Here's a look at some of the polls conducted after Barr sent his conclusions from the Mueller report to Congress on March 24. (We average out the daily tracking polls to give you a broader view):

  • YouGov tracking average of Trump's approval rating (five polls taken before and after Barr's letter): Virtually no change. (41.2 percent total approval of Trump before, 40.2 percent after.)

Polling guru Nate Silver FiveThirtyEight's weekly weighted average approval rating for Trump was 41.6% before Barr's announcement and is 42 percent now.

  • Polling often lag behind the news, so there's a chance the situation could change.
  • Trump may hurt himself by switching attention away from the Mueller probe and to a fight over health care, an area where the GOP has struggled.
  • In the meantime, Twitter once again does not mirror reality. The president did not receive a gift for 2020; the announcement has not left Democrats in disarray. In fact, as Silver himself pointed out, the most likely explanation is the conclusion to the probe is not a game changer for people.

Remember: We've seen fewer than 100 words of Mueller's report so far. But we did find out over the weekend that Congress is expected to see most of the report by the middle of this month. Stayed tuned.

On The Hill

DISASTER BILL STALLS AMID PUERTO RICO FIGHT: The Senate is expected to vote today to advance a more than $13 billion relief package “for everything from volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and wildfires in California, to hurricanes in Florida and Georgia and flooding in the Midwest, among other calamities,” my colleagues Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report. But Americans in need may have to wait as the chamber appears ready to continue its fierce debate over federal funding to Puerto Rico.

Where we're at:

  • Trump has said he has given Puerto Rico enough money.
  • Puerto Ricans are facing another round of cuts to food-stamp benefits, a program 43 percent of the island's population relies on.
  • Democrats say the island, still recovering for Hurricane Maria, needs more than than the $600 million it has been allocated for food stamps.
  • In the meantime, Nebraskans and Iowans are dealing with the worst flooding in the region in decades. One economist says across the Midwest flood damage could reach $1 billion.

Speaking of Iowa, the closer we get to 2020 the more the first-in-the-nation caucuses come into play, even in the case of disaster funding. Erica and Jeff report that while Senate Democrats are united behind fighting for more money for Puerto Rico, those running for president might suffer for blocking funds to the Hawkeye State. (A number of 2020 hopefuls were in the state this past weekend for a rural-related forum.)

Global Power

LIFE IMITATING ART: Could a comedian be Ukraine's next president? That's is not a joke. The first round of Ukraine elections took place on Sunday and according to exit polls a “comedian who plays the president on TV came out on top,” my colleagues David L. Stern and Anton Troianovski report from Kiev. Volodymyr Zelensky led the field with 30.4 percent of the vote, according to exit polls, while current President  Petro Poroshenko had 17.8 percent and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko rounded out the top three. Since no one secured more than 50 percent, Zelensky and Poroshenko are headed to a runoff.

  • “Zelensky’s strong showing reflected widespread disappointment over what many see as a lack of tangible change in the country after a pro-Western revolution five years ago,” David and Anton report.
  • “The exits polls indicated that Mr. Zelensky, who has surfed a wave of public disenchantment with the political elite and anger over corruption and low living standards, won the first round by a convincing margin,” per The Financial Times' Roman Olearchyk.
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In the Media

Nipsey Hussle killed in L.A. shooting: "Rapper Nipsey Hussle killed in South L.A. shooting; 2 injured." By The Los Angeles Times' Richard Winton and Laura Newberry.

If the Kremlin wants you dead they don't send a super spy, just a guy looking for a few thousand dollars:  "Russia Ordered a Killing That Made No Sense. Then the Assassin Started Talking." By the New York Times's Michael Schwirtz.

ICYMI: How Jamal Khashoggi's murder has changed the U.S.-Saudi relationship: "How the mysteries of Khashoggi’s murder have rocked the U.S.-Saudi partnership." By The Post's David Ignatius.

Stunning photo: "A Previously Unknown Portrait of a Young Harriet Tubman Goes on View." By Allison Keyes for Smithsonian Magazine.

Why 2020 hopefuls should listen to your high-school Spanish teacher: "Latino outreach or Google Translate? 2020 Dems bungle Spanish websites." By Politico's Jesus Rodriguez.

Viral

(A Fox host later apologized for the chyron)