Did Joe Biden pass on “a golden opportunity” to deal with allegations of sexual assault of his former Senate aide? If so, it’s by design, not an accident. Yesterday evening, CNN’s Chris Cillizza argued that Biden should have confronted the allegations head-on during a virtual town hall earlier in the day, saying that the friendly setting would have been “perfect” for the presumptive nominee to get ahead of the story:
Biden, who used the town hall to tout a newly announced endorsement from 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, never mentioned the accusations and none of the pre-written questions from the audience, which were read by former Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan, didn’t bring the topic up either.
That is a missed opportunity — and a miscalculation by Biden and his team. …
Biden’s own campaign pledges run directly counter to the line he is trying to hold. In one of his best speeches of the campaign to date — following a sweeping victory in the March 10 primaries — Biden pledged that “this election is the one that has character on the ballot. The character of the candidates, the character of the nation is on the ballot.” If he truly means those words, then simply pointing to the fact that more than a dozen women have accused President Donald Trump of inappropriate sexual behavior just wouldn’t be enough.
Given all of that, ignoring this seems like a choice with a very small chance of succeeding, politically speaking, not to mention the obvious hypocrisy when you consider that Biden had framed this election as a moral choice.
Biden and his team appear to be playing by an old set of campaign rules in which starving a story of oxygen kills it. That is not the political or media environment we live in now. It is impossible to cut off all oxygen to a story like this one. There are just too many outlets covering this stuff — not to mention Twitter, YouTube and all of the rest of the self-publishing tools available to people.
The “obvious hypocrisy” doesn’t just belong to Joe Biden. Later last night, BuzzFeed reported that the Biden campaign has a strategic response designed to prevent Biden himself from ever addressing this issue. Instead, Team Biden wants other Democrats to act as surrogates to serve up a united front of denial — based on spinning a New York Times report on Reade:
While Joe Biden has remained publicly silent about a sexual assault allegation made against him, his presidential campaign has sought to coordinate and unify Democratic messaging on the matter, advising surrogates earlier this month to say that the allegation “did not happen.”
The Biden campaign circulated talking points among top Democratic supporters shortly after the New York Times published a story earlier this month about the allegation by Tara Reade, a former staff assistant in Biden’s Senate office who says he assaulted her in 1993. …
“Biden believes that all women have the right to be heard and to have their claims thoroughly reviewed,” the talking points read, according to a copy sent to two Democratic operatives. “In this case, a thorough review by the New York Times has led to the truth: this incident did not happen.”
“Here’s the bottom line,” they read. “Vice President Joe Biden has spent over 40 years in public life: 36 years in the Senate; 7 Senate campaigns, 2 previous presidential runs, two vice presidential campaigns, and 8 years in the White House. There has never been a complaint, allegation, hint or rumor of any impropriety or inappropriate conduct like this regarding him — ever.”
Stacey Abrams is sticking to that script, almost verbatim:
Video: On CNN, Stacey Abrams bashes Tara Reade — "I believe that women deserve to be heard….But I also believe that those allegations have to be investigated by credible sources. The New York Times did a deep investigation and they found that the accusation was not credible" pic.twitter.com/mi1QwJfiME
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) April 29, 2020
As Ruby Cramer and Rosie Gray point out, though, the New York Times article does not say that “this incident did not happen.” Their analysis two weeks ago did say that their investigation “found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden,” which is not the same thing. Furthermore, that article precedes two more witnesses who came forward over the last few days to say that Reade told them about Biden’s assault contemporaneously — one of whom plans to vote for Biden anyway, even though she believes Reade.
Furthermore, the phrase “like this” is working overtime in their denial at the end. The same New York Times article reminds readers that seven other women came forward with Reade a year ago to specifically allege that Biden does have a pattern of sexual harassment, including unwanted touching, although none of them accused Biden of rape:
Last year, Ms. Reade and seven other women came forward to accuse Mr. Biden of kissing, hugging or touching them in ways that made them feel uncomfortable. Ms. Reade told The Times then that Mr. Biden had publicly stroked her neck, wrapped his fingers in her hair and touched her in ways that made her uncomfortable. …
The seven other women who had complained about Mr. Biden told the Times this month that they did not have any new information about their experiences to add, but several said they believed Ms. Reade’s account.
Plus these denials ask us to deny what everyone else sees in Biden’s behavior. His rep as a creeper comes to Biden honestly, and the evidence has been captured in photos and video for years.
That doesn’t mean that Reade’s allegation is automatically true. However, that’s the standard Biden himself insisted be applied with Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, even though no one could ever establish that the two had ever been in the same room together at any time. The hypocrisy of this denial campaign, effectively branding his former Senate aide Reade a liar by proxy, may be outstripped by its cravenness. Other Democrats should be especially wary of becoming his surrogates on that point, and getting tarnished by contact with this effort.
Update: Hoo boy. Looks like the NYT isn’t happy about Biden’s use of its earlier reporting:
A New York Times spokesperson says Biden campaign talking points “inaccurately” suggest that the Times investigation found that Tara Reade’s allegation “did not happen.” Response to this scoop from @rubycramer @RosieGray https://t.co/ZUD6f2WSEE pic.twitter.com/LNaHvH0ZxF
— Jonathan Easley (@JonEasley) April 29, 2020
Talk about backfire. That in itself made the story much more reportable for other major outlets.