Former Vice President Joe Biden on Friday made light of allegations by eight women of touching them without their permission — twice.

"I just want you to know I had permission to hug Lonnie," Biden, 76, told a crowd of 1,200 gathered for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Construction and Maintenance Conference at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C. He was referring to Lonnie Stephenson, president of IBEW, who introduced the longtime senator from Delaware before his remarks, and the joke was met with laughter from the mostly white, male audience.

Later in his 40-minute speech, Biden invited a group of children onto the stage.

“He gave me permission to touch him?” he again quipped, after hugging a young boy. “Everyone knows I like kids better than people.”

Biden used his platform on Friday to boost the power of unions and their role in building the middle class. While borrowing a page out of President Trump's playbook in slamming elites, the former vice president also took the opportunity to take a dig at the current occupant of the White House.

"Sometimes I think that President Trump is a tragedy in two acts," he said. "The first tragedy is that he treats and opposes every day, opposes every day, the core values and beliefs of our nation ... The second tragedy is that he's so consumed with personal grievances, so obsessed with the past, that for three years now we've been focused on the past, not the future."

"This country can't afford more years with a president looking to settle personal scores. This country can't afford four more years of a president lacking in compassion," he added.

Biden’s appearance marks his first public event since former Nevada state assemblywoman Lucy Flores accused him last week of smelling her hair and landing an unwanted slow kiss on the back of her neck. Since then, seven other women have made allegations against him of inappropriate contact, ranging from putting his hand on the small of one woman’s back to touching another woman’s thigh.

The vice president had addressed the women’s claims first via statement before releasing a video on Wednesday. Other statements were issued by his spokesman, Bill Russo.

"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," he wrote in an accompanying tweet.

The controversy coincides with mounting speculation Biden is about to launch his third bid for the White House, having unsuccessfully contested his party's nomination in 1988 and 2008. He was spotted on Thursday with a camera crew in Scranton, Pa., the town in which he was born, apparently to film an announcement video.