Former Vice-President Joe Biden has finally addressed an allegation that he sexually assaulted a junior Senate staffer. On a Friday morning episode of Morning Joe, the MSNBC news program hosted by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, Biden flatly denied the story, which the former staffer, Tara Reade, recently shared with the press. The assault “never, never happened,” Biden insisted.
Reade has said that in 1993, Biden pushed her up against a wall, put one hand under her shirt and the other under her skirt, and penetrated her with his fingers. Last year, she told reporters that Biden had touched her neck and hair without her consent. Reade did not report the assault at the time, but did say she reported general sexual harassment before leaving Biden’s office that summer. Biden appeared to reference that alleged report on Friday. “I am requesting that the Secretary of the Senate ask the Archives to identify any record of the complaint she alleges she filed and make available to the press any such document. If there was ever any such complaint, the record will be there,” he said in a statement.
But on Morning Joe, he balked at the notion of opening up his papers at the University of Delaware. Nicole Einbinder of Business Insider subsequently reported that a spokesperson for the National Archives said they do not hold the records to which Biden referred.
Meanwhile, portions of Reade’s account have been corroborated by reports in the Intercept and Business Insider. The New York Times and the Washington Post have also examined her story, and confirmed that she did disclose a traumatic incident to a friend and relatives at the time, though neither investigation proved or disproved her full claim.
Reade’s story is a nightmare for women’s groups, which largely oppose the reelection of Donald Trump. Most were slow to publicly comment on Reade’s allegations, and the few that did simply urged Biden to directly address the story. But Biden’s public remarks leave many questions unresolved, and that’s a problem for organizations and activists working against sexual violence. On Friday afternoon, several released longer statements in response to Biden’s appearance on Morning Joe. Some are favorable toward the former vice-president, and do not push for further investigation or action on Biden’s part. Others have more concrete demands.
In most cases, entries are partial quotes of longer press releases. This post will be updated as new information becomes available.
EMILY’s List and NARAL Pro-Choice America
The organizations, which elect pro-choice women to office and lobby for abortion rights respectively, issued a joint statement on Friday afternoon. The statement was low on detail, and, rather than analyze Reade’s story or Biden’s response to it, pivoted quickly to a condemnation of Trump. “It is critical that women be heard, that they be allowed to tell their stories without personal attacks or a system that shuts them down. Today, Joe Biden addressed Tara Reade’s claims. Voters deserve the chance to hear from Biden, especially given how much is at stake in this election, and today they did,” said Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL, and Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY’s List.
“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,” they added. “This debate is about the next election, the most critical in our lifetime. Voters have a choice between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, whose actions have cost lives through this pandemic, who wants to end Roe v. Wade, who is constantly undermining our democracy, who has tried to rip away healthcare from millions, who has put children in cages and torn families apart, and more. Trump presents a threat to our communities, our freedoms, and our most cherished institutions and has never addressed the multiple credible allegations of sexual assault against him.”
TIME’S UP Now
The Intercept had previously reported that the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund declined to assist Reade when she reached out to the group earlier this year. In statements to the news outlet, the organization said that because Biden was a candidate for president, funding Reade’s case would jeopardize its nonprofit status. On Friday, another arm of the Time’s Up Foundation, Time’s Up Now, released a statement on behalf of its president, Tina Tchen:
“We have reached a pivotal moment in our nation when candidates for president are accused of sexual assault. Today, Vice President Joe Biden sat down and directly addressed the allegation against him with the seriousness it deserves, something that the current president has never done,” Tchen said. “No longer can claims like this go ignored. Vice President Joe Biden needed to address Tara Reade’s allegation today. We call for complete transparency into this claim and the multiple claims against President Donald Trump. As we go forward, American voters are entitled to a full understanding of all allegations of this nature. Women should be heard, treated respectfully, and their allegations taken seriously.
“By no means is the conversation about sexual assault and power in America over. The painful truth is that the systems for women to pursue justice are and have always been broken. This must change. TIME’S UP will continue to fight the power imbalances in America‘s workplaces and in our world. We understand elections are about choices. And until we can achieve the more perfect union we all deserve, TIME’S UP will measure our leaders both on their character, their records, and on the work they do supporting safety, economic equity, inclusion, and the dignity of all women,” she added.
Planned Parenthood Action Fund
Alexis McGill Johnson, the acting president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, released a mostly laudatory statement in response to Biden’s appearance on Morning Joe. “We are glad to see Vice President Biden take a needed first step in addressing this issue head on. We now look to Biden to continue to push this conversation, and our country, forward,” McGill Johnson said.
“Vice President Biden has a strong policy record on this issue. He has championed survivors, and began the It’s On Us campaign, which took the needed stance that any real solution to sexual violence relies on men stepping up and taking personal responsibility — and should not rest on the backs of women to fix,” she added. “Now is the time for Vice President Biden to demonstrate the right leadership to drive this conversation toward policy solutions. It is our job in this election to be a voice for our members, supporters, and the millions of patients who depend on Planned Parenthood health centers each year. And we fully understand the stakes of this moment, as our current President has spent his time in office attacking our health and our rights, undercutting sexual and reproductive health care, and trying to eliminate protections for sexual assault survivors. We need, and expect, someone who wants to hold the highest office in the land to push our country to have a real reckoning on sexual violence and assault — one that both includes personal responsibility, and gives survivors the hope of real solutions so that they never have to experience this trauma again.”
The anti–sexual violence group released one of Friday’s more critical statements. It’s notable both for an implied dig at Biden over the length of time it took him to respond to Reade’s story, and for articulating further, concrete steps the former vice-president should take.“We appreciate Vice President Biden finally addressing Tara Reade’s allegations. These allegations deserve a rigorous investigation, and we urge Vice President Biden to release any and all records that may be relevant, including those housed at the University of Delaware, in addition to any Senate records housed at the National Archives. We urge him, his campaign, and former staff to cooperate fully and provide complete transparency,” said Heather Drevna, the vice-president of communications for RAINN.
The women’s advocacy group said Biden had “more to do” to address Reade’s story, though it didn’t specify what exactly the former vice-president could do to assuage their concerns. “We believe survivors. That has always meant that people who come forward with allegations of sexual violence deserve the presumption of truth. We owe them the ability to come forward in a process where they are treated fairly, in a trusted system. Our existing systems, including the criminal justice system, are failing survivors and they must be fixed. Until they are, people will continue to exploit survivors for their own political advantage instead of giving them the respect and justice they deserve,” said Shaunna Thomas, who co-founded the feminist organization. “It was right for Joe Biden to directly address this issue and he has more to do.”
“We need a leader who can show humility, own the harm that people have experienced as a result of their behavior, and take meaningful steps to facilitate healing,” Thomas added. “We know that leader can not be and will not be Donald Trump.”
The National Women’s Law Center
The group, which litigates sex-discrimination cases and houses the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, praised Biden for responding to Reade’s sexual-assault claim, but didn’t lay out further steps it expected Biden to take. “Vice President Biden directly addressed the allegations before him head-on today – anyone running for office should do no less in the face of such serious claims. Even in the context of a presidential race, in fact especially in this context, the public is looking for leaders to be clear, transparent, and to have meaningful conversations around claims that are this serious,” said Fatima Goss Graves, the president and CEO of the NWLC. “It’s clear that our current systems and politics fall short. A presidential race that has barely touched on the many systemic changes that will actually be necessary to achieve change does a disservice to survivors. We must create spaces in all of our institutions where survivors can turn with claims of sexual misconduct, and we must focus on a survivor’s agenda, not a partisan one. That is what it means to believe survivors.
“It is a starting place to incite advocates, reporters, and lawmakers to demand more than what a broken system has to offer. It is not without process or next steps, nor is it just up to the ‘movement’ or token female figureheads to solve. It is our collective responsibility, and past good deeds by any of us cannot be a down payment for the failure of all of us to address the gaps that leave millions of survivors behind, denying them safety, accountability, and justice,” she added.
Ana Maria Archila
Archila, who famously confronted Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator over his vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh and is the co-director of the Center for Popular Democracy, decried Biden’s lack of transparency.
“This morning he spoke for the first time about the allegations by Tara Reade, and issued yet another blanket denial of the assault, without any reflections on how women, and survivors of all genders, are treated in our society,” she said. “As someone seeking to govern the country, he has a responsibility to model how to hold the pain of survivors and speak about the reality of our collective experience, even as he denies the allegations against him. That is the role of a leader.”
She added, “Our country is at a moment of grave danger. President Trump’s racism and xenophobia has caused serious harm to millions of people, and his administration’s inept handling of the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in the deaths of thousands. We cannot afford to have four more years of Trump, and we will do everything necessary to defeat him in November.
“Demanding more of Joe Biden’s leadership is not in contradiction with our commitment to defeat Trump. It is, in fact, central to that effort.”
Enough Is Enough Voter Project
The PAC, which is chaired by Stanford Law professor Michele Dauber and says it targets “candidates for public office who—in both public and private life—have turned against women on the issues of sexual harassment or violence against women and children,” tweeted out a statement on Wednesday. “The evidence supporting Reade’s allegations is far stronger than the evidence against Brett Kavanaugh, and women leaders KNOW IT,” it said.
This piece has been corrected in order to clarify the relationship between Time’s Up Now and the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.