Joe Biden denies Tara Reade’s sexual assault allegations. Will the drama hurt his chances of beating Donald Trump?
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has denied claims of sexual assault leveraged against him by his former Senate aide Tara Reade.
Speaking on Morning Joe, a left-leaning talk show hosted by the cable news network MSNBC, Biden said multiple times that the incident did not happen (if you’re not up to speed on Reade’s claims, head here before reading on) and elaborated on what evidence may or may not exist to confirm this.
Is this the end of the story? How will the public respond? Could there be more evidence there?
Here’s what we know.
Biden thoroughly denies Reade’s claims
Over the course of the 18-minute interview, Biden said several times that the alleged incident “unequivocally never happened” and Reade’s statements “aren’t true”.
“Women are to be believed given the benefit of the doubt,” he said in response to a question about his former stances towards alleged sexual assault.
“Start off with the assumption they’re telling the truth. But then you have to look at the facts.
“In this case, the truth is the claims are false.”
Biden was not asked about and did not mention the Larry King tape allegedly revealing Reade’s mother voicing concern over her daughter, or the two women who’ve come forward to say Reade told them about the incident two decades ago.
He also declined to speculate about Reade’s motivation for coming forward and agreed she had a right to be heard.
A new question emerges: Is there a smoking gun in the National Archives?
Biden did address a growing public cry to search his records for information about Reade.
Reade has said she spoke to three managers in Biden’s office after the incident to complain about comments and physically affectionate gestures that made her feel uncomfortable.
She also said she filed a written complaint with an independent congressional office, but does not recall which office, specifically.
She claims that Biden’s Senate staff caught wind of her attempt to file a complaint and took retaliatory measures like cutting her responsibilities and moving her into a windowless office.
Biden confirmed he would not release his Senate papers, an extensive collection of documents that detail his time in office, which are housed at the University of Delaware under strict orders not to be released until two years after Biden has retired from public life.
Biden said that the papers contain no personnel files, so any complaint made by Reade would not be there.
The papers also contain records of his political communications, such as “confidential conversations” with leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin, that could be used against him in his campaign if the files were suddenly made public, he said.
Biden is instead calling for the Secretary of the Senate to search files from the Office of Fair Employment Practices, which are housed in the National Archives, America’s largest repository for historic government documents.
Biden made it clear he has no knowledge of the complaint Reade claims to have attempted to file against him.
“I’m confident there’s nothing. No-one ever brought it to me. No-one in my Senate office is aware of any such complaint. I’m not worried about it at all,” he said.
“If it’s there, put it out. But I’ve never seen it.”
Response to Biden’s denial elicits Kavanaugh comparisons
At the time of writing, Reade had not yet responded to Biden’s interview.
Nor had the Secretary of the Senate, Julie Adams, who holds the power to request the National Archives search for documents.
Key Democratic leaders have praised Biden for his handling of the claims and defended his character, while still acknowledging Reade has a right to come forward.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Biden’s handling of the incident confirmed her belief he’ll make a great president.
“I have a great comfort level with the situation as I see it, with all the respect in the world for any woman who comes forward, with all the highest regard for Joe Biden,” she said at a news conference the day before Biden’s interview.
President Donald Trump, Biden’s general election opponent, addressed the allegations for the first time on Thursday (local time) during a coronavirus media conference.
“I don’t know anything about it. I think he should respond. It could be false accusations. I know all about false accusations,” said Trump, who has denied more than 20 claims of sexual assault and unwanted touching.
Trump also compared Biden to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who faced Senate hearings for claims he sexually assaulted a woman named Christine Blasey Ford while they were in high school.
Other Republican leaders have similarly responded to Biden questions with Kavanaugh comments, saying the media isn’t treating these fresh allegations with the same attention and rigour they gave the Republican in 2018.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Americans crave “a symmetrical evaluation” of the two cases.
Media figures and Democrats alike now say the standard used to evaluate Kavanaugh’s claims should by no means become a universal standard, instead opting for a case-by-case approach.
It’s tough to predict how this could affect Biden’s candidacy
The story is one of a select few that have managed to cut through the American public’s focus on coronavirus.
Immediately following Biden’s interview, both “Dr Ford” and “#IBelieveBiden” were trending on Twitter, with praise or condemnation for Biden falling largely along party lines.
It’s unclear how, if at all, this will affect Biden’s campaign. The former vice president emerged largely unscathed when several women came forward last spring to say his tactile politicking made them feel uncomfortable.
But the Reade allegations are far worse than inappropriate touching.
Given that the claims are likely never going to be neatly proved or disproved, their existence forces Biden — the candidate running as “not Trump” — into comparisons with the President in this regard.
Reade’s allegations are by no means equivalent with the two dozen allegations put forth against Trump. But they’re enough to frame the election as a vote for the “lesser of two evils” for some Americans.
Six months out from the first election in a post-#MeToo era, both parties are stuck with a challenging balancing act.
For Democrats looking to defeat Trump in 2020, it’s about refuting Reade’s allegations without straying too far from the “believe women” mantra the party is known for.
For Republicans looking to defeat Biden, it’s about highlighting Reade’s claims without bringing the spotlight back to the allegations made against Trump.
For both parties, the way this shakes out is likely to provide a precedent, if not a playbook, for what’s well becoming the new normal in a modern age of US politics.