May 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Some Democrats want more from Biden on sexual assault allegation

Biden at an event in March. Photo: Michael Brochstein/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

There's already an expectation among some Democrats that today was just the beginning for Joe Biden in addressing sexual assault allegations from a former Senate staffer.

Driving the news: After Biden addressed Tara Reade's allegations for the first time today — both in a written statement and an interview with MSNBC's "Morning Joe" — several Democratic operatives and women's rights activists said they want Biden to keep the conversation going around all the issues and gender inequities that the #MeToo movement exposed.

  • Those responses, together with the reaction from the Trump campaign — which accused Biden of believing he "should be held to a different standard than he has set for others" — suggests that Biden's statement is not going to put the issue to rest.

The big picture: Biden's Democratic allies are happy with how he addressed the allegations of sexual assault from 1993, which he said "never happened." But some prominent women's groups made it clear they wanted more of a reckoning with how to make sure women who report sexual assault are taken seriously.

  • And several Democrats we spoke with said they thought Reade's allegations were credible — but suggested they may still support Biden because they see it as a choice between the lesser of two evils in November, given that President Trump has been accused of sexual misconduct and assault by more than a dozen women.
  • "At the end of the day, I believe Tara Reade but I also will be voting for Joe Biden in November. This is not the position I hoped to find myself in 2020, especially in the wake of #MeToo and after a historic number of women ran for President — but here we are," said one women's rights activist involved in Democratic politics.

Most Biden allies we talked with thought the statement was better than his TV interview — clearer, and a better medium to articulate the complexity of what it means to believe women.

  • Women "deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and when they step forward they should be heard, not silenced," Biden wrote in his statement. But at the same time, he says, "their stories should be subject to appropriate inquiry and scrutiny."
  • But they applauded his willingness to bring up that dynamic in his interview on MSNBC, and they thought Biden did what he needed to do: Address this himself and give a clear and unequivocal denial.

What they're saying: "The Vice President came across as sincere, genuine and truthful. He made it clear, just as he’s done before, that women deserve to have the space to step forward, and to be heard — a refreshing contrast to our current president," said Adrienne Elrod, a Democratic strategist who worked on Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign.

  • But Alexis McGill Johnson, the acting president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement that while the group is glad to see Biden "take a needed first step" in addressing this issue, "We now look to Biden to continue to push this conversation, and our country, forward."
  • "We cannot let this conversation devolve into the kind of shame and ridicule that too many survivors face," McGill said. "That ridicule is what keeps millions silent after they experience sexual violence or assault. That shame is what allows violence to continue."
  • NARAL Pro-Choice America and EMILY’s List released a joint statement today, saying in part: "Just as Biden has listened and led in the past on the Violence Against Women Act, we now need him to lead us forward to create the sort of systems where survivors’ claims are taken seriously and justice and healing are possible."

Others, who requested anonymity to speak about this for various reasons, including the vitriol they say they're likely to experience online if they speak on either Biden's or Reade's behalf, appreciated that Biden said Reade has a right to come forward and that he didn't question her motives for doing so.

  • Still, women's rights activists we spoke with feel that he could have done more to acknowledge the “essence of what she’s talking about is real” — what he said about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers — even if he denies the charge against himself.

The other side: In a statement, Trump campaign spokeswoman Erin Perrine accused Biden of setting a "double standard" compared to what he said about Kavanaugh.

  • And she said he set a "different definition of transparency than he sets for others" when he declined to open up his University of Delaware papers. (Biden said any complaint filed by Reade wouldn't be kept there, but at the National Archives, which he wants to open up.)

Between the lines, by Axios' Alayna Treene: The campaign is being extra deliberate in its response to these allegations, given Trump's own history of sexual assault allegations.

  • In the past, the campaign has been far quicker to go after Biden and paint him as the villain. But today, when Axios contacted several Trump campaign officials after Biden's MSNBC interview, all were hesitant to respond. Instead they waited until the campaign released an official statement.
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