Perhaps the Joe Biden campaign’s mischaracterization of their reporting did more damage than first thought. The New York Times follows up the Tara Reade story with news that activist women’s groups and key Democratic officials have not remained entirely silent about the allegation of sexual assault. Over the last three weeks, those groups have pressed Joe Biden to speak out and deal with Reade’s allegations, and they have held their fire after being promised action.
Now, however, they’re tired of getting strung along — and may soon make their unhappiness public:
Finally, several of the women’s groups prepared a public letter that praised Mr. 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 Mr. Biden’s Senate office in the early 1990s. …
Then Mr. Biden’s team heard about the advocates’ effort. According to people involved in the discussions, the group put the letter on hold as it began pressuring Biden advisers to push the candidate to make a statement himself before the end of April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Along with liberal organizers, they urged him to acknowledge the importance of survivors and the need for systemic change around issues of sexism and assault.
Nearly two weeks later, Mr. Biden and his campaign have yet to make that statement, and the advocates have not released their letter. 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 Ms. Reade’s allegation, the Biden campaign is facing attacks from the right and increasing pressure from the left to address the issue. And liberal activists find themselves in a tense standoff with a candidate they want to support but who they say has made little attempt to show leadership on an issue that resonates deeply with their party’s base.
Biden’s surrogates are getting tired of the presumptive nominee hiding while they get peppered with questions about Reade’s allegations. That seems notable in itself:
Already, the allegation against Mr. Biden has caused top female allies — including several widely considered to be vice-presidential prospects, like Stacey Abrams of Georgia and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — to face questioning about whether they stand with Mr. Biden after the allegation. Privately, some female Democrats are growing frustrated with being put in the position of answering for Mr. Biden when he has remained silent, and male progressive leaders, even outspoken allies in combating sexual assault, have not been pressured to address this point.
You mean … they’re tired of being treated like Republicans? This is a common media practice when a GOP official does or says something arguably outrageous — they ask every other Republican to either defend or condemn it. It happens with less frequency when dealing with Democrats, and we actually have a very recent example: Biden’s repeated ranting about Donald Trump aiming to postpone the election. It’s sheer nonsense, a conspiracy theory that has been repeatedly debunked, but James Clyburn and Bernie Sanders have amplified it. And yet no one is asking these surrogates, or any other high-ranking Democrats, to explain whether they condemn the conspiracy-theory-mongering of their party’s presumptive nominee and other leadership officials.
If this is leaking out to the New York Times and if the Gray Lady is reporting it, then this must be reaching critical mass behind the scenes. The nonsense talking points asking other Democrats to imply Reade is a liar might have been the last straw, especially after the Times cut the legs out from under that strategy this morning. If the women’s groups release that letter demanding Biden answer for himself rather than having campaign officials and surrogates do it for him, that won’t leave him with much political cover.
So why hasn’t Biden addressed the allegation? The most likely reason is that the allegation is so graphic, specific, and horrid that Biden will have no choice but to issue a flat-out denial and leave the conclusion that Reade is lying. There isn’t any room for a Chris Matthews-style “her allegation is credible” admission because Matthews’ peccadilloes were far more minor — flirtatious comments in inappropriate settings that put underlings in uncomfortable positions. It’s far easier to cop to that then to come up with a way to present Reade as credible while denying that he stuck his fingers inside her genitalia without her permission. Biden will have to deny it and insist that Reade can’t be trusted, which will leave those activist groups in perhaps an even worse position than before.
For that reason, I’m skeptical that those activists really will push it any farther than this. This is probably as close as they get to attempting to force Biden out into the open. If Biden publicly calls Reade a liar — which is his only tenable political and legal option — then these groups will have to decide whether they prioritize their cause over their partisan ambitions. We got an answer to that over twenty years ago when Bill Clinton was president, and I suspect the answer hasn’t changed since then, either.