Democratic frustration mounts as Biden remains silent on sexual assault allegation

click to enlarge Joe Biden leads the polls with about 30 percent support. - GAGE SKIDMORE PHOTO
Gage Skidmore photo
Joe Biden leads the polls with about 30 percent support.
By Lisa Lerer and Sydney Ember
The New York Times Company

For more than three weeks, progressive activists and women’s rights advocates debated how to handle an allegation of sexual assault against Joe Biden. The conversations weren’t easy, nor were the politics: Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, faced one allegation; his opponent, President Donald Trump, at least a dozen.

Finally, several of the women’s groups prepared a public letter that praised Biden’s work as an “outspoken champion for survivors of sexual violence” but also pushed him to address the allegation from Tara Reade, a former aide who worked in Biden’s Senate office in the early 1990s.

Nearly two weeks later, the Biden campaign has said little publicly beyond saying that women deserve to be heard and insisting that the allegation is not true; privately, Biden advisers have circulated talking points urging supporters to deny that the incident occurred.

As two more women have come forward to corroborate part of Reade’s allegation, the Biden campaign is facing attacks from the right and increasing pressure from the left to address the issue.

Since Reade spoke out in March with her allegation — that Biden penetrated her with his fingers in a Senate building in 1993 — his aides and advisers have denied it, saying it is “untrue.” They have remained unconcerned about any significant political blowback from Reade’s accusation, according to people who have spoken with the campaign, who insisted on anonymity to discuss private conversations.

In recent months, Biden has taken steps that appear to show he understands how a commitment to representation and equity might resonate with women, who make up the majority of voters for Democratic candidates. He has pledged to pick a woman as a running mate and nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court.

Yet as he seeks to unite the Democratic Party after the primaries and pivot to a general election against Trump, Reade’s allegation remains a subject of intense discussion in the political world.

“Joe Biden himself needs to respond directly,” said Yvette Simpson, the chief executive of Democracy for America, a progressive advocacy organization, which plans to back the Democratic nominee. “While it is absolutely essential that we defeat Donald Trump in November, trying to manage the response through women surrogates and emailed talking points doesn’t cut it in 2020 — especially if Democrats want to continue to be the party that values, supports, elevates, hears and believes women.”

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