A sexual assault allegation is raising Joe Biden’s first big challenge as the Democrats’ presidential nominee, fueling Republican attacks and leaving many in his own party in an uncomfortable bind.
Biden’s campaign has denied the allegation from his former Senate staffer Tara Reade, who has said Biden assaulted her in the basement of a Capitol Hill office building in the 1990s.
But the story garnered fresh attention this week after two of Reade’s associates said she previously told them about elements of her allegations.
Republicans who are worried about President Donald Trump’s increasingly precarious political standing are seizing on the allegation to portray Democrats as hypocrites who only defend women who allege wrongdoing against conservatives. They are digging in despite the fact that it could renew attention on the multiple sexual assault allegations lodged against President Donald Trump.
Democrats, meanwhile, are in an awkward position of vigorously validating women who come forward with their stories while defending the man who will be their standard-bearer in what many in the party consider the most important election of their lifetimes.
The tension is heightened because Biden himself is saying nothing about the allegation.
Like many Americans, he has spent the past several weeks at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Biden has participated in a handful of local and national interviews, during which he wasn’t asked about the allegation.
But he hasn’t held a press briefing for the broader press corps that covers him since April 2, before multiple news organizations reported Reade’s story. The public appearances he has made, such as fundraisers or events alongside prominent Democrats, have been controlled.
Some Democrats say that approach isn’t working and are urging a more forceful response.
“The campaign has issued statements, but he hasn’t issued any statements in his own voice,” said former Democratic national committee chairwoman Donna Brazile. “It’s not helping, it’s just damaging — not only to the person who has come forward, but it’s also damaging the candidate.” Lis Smith, who worked as a top strategist on Pete Buttigieg‘s presidential campaign, also called on the Biden campaign to speak up.
“These accusations have not been found to be credible, so it’s in the Biden campaign’s interest to nip this in the bud directly and do it quickly,” she said.
The November contest between Biden and Trump will be the first presidential race of the #MeToo era, which has led numerous women to come forward with allegations of sexual assault.
Trump himself has been accused of assault and unwanted touching by numerous women, allegations he denies. He was forced to apologize during the 2016 campaign after he was heard on a recording bragging about using his fame to assault women.
Women are a core constituency for Democrats, and Biden has a mixed history. While he wrote the Violence Against Women Act as a senator, he also came under heavy criticism for his handling of Anita Hill’s Senate testimony in the 1990s. Just before he launched his 2020 campaign, several women accused him of unwanted touching, behavior for which he apologized.
Biden has pledged to pick a woman as a running mate, and the allegation has left those thought to be in contention in a tough spot.
Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia Democratic governor candidate, said, “Women deserve to be heard, and I believe they need to be listened to, but I also believe that those allegations have to be investigated by credible sources.”
Some Democratic donors and fundraisers say the issue has not come up in calls with party financiers. Others worry that it could be used against Biden, much as Hillary Clinton’s private email server and the activities of the Clinton Foundation were wielded against her by Trump.