Update: Friday morning, Joe Biden released a 1,000-word statement denying Tara Reade’s allegation of sexual assault, and sat for a 20-minute interview with Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on the subject.
In addition to forcefully reiterating, personally, the denial previously issued only through the campaign, Biden attempted to foreclose the topic by calling for the National Archives to search its records for a complaint Reade claims to have filed. “There is only one place a complaint of this kind could be,” Biden said, implying that if such a search comes up empty, the matter should be considered closed.
That might be wishful thinking. As questioning from Brzezinski suggested, additional avenues of disclosure will inevitably be suggested, within National Archives records, Biden’s Senate materials held at the University of Delaware, and beyond.
More importantly, Biden has now opened the door to questions on the topic at least through the conclusion of that Archive search. He will be asked repeatedly the questions he got this morning; for responses to additional statements from Reade in upcoming interviews; and matters raised through any other revelations or developments. Biden’s history suggests that he might have a difficult time holding his temper in check.
In the Morning Joe interview, Biden was able to maintain a tone of patient annoyance that seemed appropriate for a man believing in his innocence while recognizing that his accuser has the right to be heard and respected.Whether he can keep that up through his fifth interview on the subject, or his 35th, remains to be seen. --DSB
A snowball rolling toward Joe Biden's campaign is gaining size and speed: Tara Reade’s allegation that as a senator, Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993.
So far, Biden, the campaign, and most of the Democratic Party establishment has not deigned to react. That won’t stop the snowball from coming. It will just make things messier when it hits.
It’s possible, though far from certain, that this will be the story that places Biden in a position familiar to every modern-day Democratic Presidential candidate: battling a vaporous demon that has just enough substance, and just the right resonance, to remain attached to the very end of the campaign.
Barack Obama had his relationships with Reverend Jeremiah Wright and former Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers; they were problematic enough to justify press coverage, and perfectly attuned to Americans’ unspoken fear of the candidate’s otherness.
Hillary Clinton’s private server issue similarly held just enough substance to maintain journalistic interest, while playing perfectly into the longstanding portrayal of her as conniving and untrustworthy.
It’s possible that Biden’s history of handsiness with women, which created controversy for a time during an earlier stretch of the campaign, provides similar fertile ground for a sexual assault charge to resonate. We also don’t know whether additional details will provide enough substance to merit long-term news coverage.
But even if this snowball melts away before impact, others will get rolled at him until eventually one hits its mark. That’s how this game now works. So, it’s a bit surprising and more than a little concerning that Biden seems so flatfooted in this snowball’s path.
Barely a month ago, Reade first publicly claimed that Biden aggressively groped her in 1993, when she was a staff assistant in his Senate office. A couple of weeks later, several major news outlets, including the New York Times and Washington Post published inconclusive investigations into the allegations.
The snowball picked up speed early this week, when Business Insider reported the first on-record source purporting to corroborate that Reade related the story at the time.
The details of the story, the corroboration, and the accuser were almost less important in feeding it oxygen than the side angle attached to it: the apparent hypocrisy of many Democrats who have demanded that we “believe women” when they make these types of allegations.
That bind the Democrats supposedly find themselves in exists independently of the merits of the claims themselves. That justifies media coverage—including columns such as this one—essentially asking whether leaders on the left should be taking this allegation as seriously as they did, say, the ones against Brett Kavanaugh.
It’s fair to note that the flip side of that coin of hypocrisy—voices on the right demanding scrutiny where they did not in Kavanaugh’s case, let alone Trump’s—is rarely examined. And that “believe women” is merely a slogan, not meant to be universally applied any more than “pro-life” commits its adherents to any position on the death penalty or end-of-life care.
Regardless, it was easy to see the allure of the hypocrisy angle to this story, and through it the re-opening of an unfinished debate over the reach of the #MeToo movement—a hotbed topic that pushes buttons of resentment among many of the types of people who drive traffic on social media, viewership on cable TV, and contributions to political and issue-based organizations.
That full-scale mania has been slow to develop, mostly because of the enormous, sun-blocking scope of the COVID pandemic. Beyond basic reporting, there has been little appetite or resources for coverage and discussion of anything beyond that topic.
And, from what I have gathered, the Reade allegation had not become a regular topic of conversation among most Democratic activists, even this week—although, as one noted, those activists haven’t been able to attend the kinds of receptions where you would typically pull someone aside to discreetly broach the topic.
There’s also the reality that those Democrats aren’t inclined toward anything that might disrupt the Biden candidacy. Not only are they desperate to defeat Trump in November, most loathe any prospect of re-energizing Bernie Sanders supporters with thoughts of re-opening the nomination question.
Joe Biden’s public schedule for Wednesday consisted solely of “virtual Biden for President finance events,” ie., Zoom conference calls with contribution bundlers. Thursday’s listed an Instagram Live Q&A with Megan Rapinoe, the soccer star and activist; plus another virtual finance event.
Meanwhile, outside that cocoon, the growing snowball began grazing others. Reporters from the Daily Beast reached out to 10 major pro-women organizations about the Tara Reade allegation on Wednesday, none of which were willing to take a stand. The Washington Post editorialized Wednesday afternoon that Biden should release his Senate records that might contain pertinent documents.
Nancy Pelosi got the question during a CNN appearance Thursday morning, saying “I do support Joe Biden; I’m satisfied with how he has responded” to the allegation. She added, however, that it is “a matter that he has to deal with.”
The exchange ate up more than two minutes of precious interview time—minutes Democrats would much rather spend talking about almost anything else. The party is on offense, and Republicans are reeling, on the response to the COVID crisis and the economy. There’s obviously never a good time to discuss the notion of one’s presumptive Presidential nominee forcing his fingers inside a staffer, but this seems like a particularly bad one.
It is inevitable now that Biden will need to personally address the issue, and nearly certain that his response will further extend and elevate the story.
Can he do so in a way that prevents it from metastasizing into another Reverend Wright or email server story? It will be interesting to see whether Democrats have forged a new playbook for a situation they surely knew was coming, in one form or another.