A decades-old accusation that won’t go away is making it hard for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden to shed his “Creepy Uncle Joe” image as he prepares to become the 2020 Democratic standard-bearer against President Trump.
Mr. Biden denies former Senate staffer Tara Reade’s claim that he pinned her up against a wall and sexually assaulted her in 1993 when he was a senator from Delaware. But the story persists and more people have come forward to vouch for Ms. Reade’s tale of violation and humiliation at the hands of Mr. Biden.
“The Tara Reade allegations are a problem, but I think their tangible, lasting effect will be to open the door to persistent and routine consideration of Vice President Biden’s more generic, more pervasive problem of just being a creeper,” said Mike McKenna, a GOP strategist who recently left his post as deputy director of legislative affairs at the White House. “As a practical matter, that will serve to neutralize the president’s challenges in the same portion of the human experience.”
For Mr. Trump, who also has weathered accusations of being too handsy with women, the Reade accusations provide an opportunity to shift attention away from the coronavirus crisis that has become the defining issue of 2020.
For Mr. Biden, it could jeopardize his strong support among the female voters that are crucial to his chances of winning in November.
“Just think of what a difference it would make right now if we had a president who not only listened to the science, put facts over fiction, but brought us together — showed the kind of compassion and caring that we need from our president and which Joe Biden has been exemplifying his entire life,” said Mrs. Clinton, the failed 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.
Dogged by allegations — new and old
Before he formally entered the 2020 presidential race, Lucy Flores, a former Nevada assemblywoman, came forward to accuse Mr. Biden of putting his hands on her shoulders, smelling her hair and kissing the back of her head without permission in 2014.
Ms. Reade took her accusation further last month, relaying a story on the Katie Halper Show podcast of how Mr. Biden pinned her up against a wall at the Capitol in 1993 and sexually penetrated her with his fingers.
“Women have a right to tell their story, and reporters have an obligation to rigorously vet those claims,” Biden campaign spokesperson Kate Bedingfield said in a statement earlier this month. “We encourage them to do so because these accusations are false.”
Biden supporters also dismissed Ms. Reade for having political motivations because she backed Sen. Bernard Sanders’ run for the Democratic presidential nomination. The criticism evaporated when Mr. Sanders dropped out of the race on April 8 and Ms. Reade continued to tell her story.
Tara Reade pushes forward
“I’m calling for the release of the documents being held by the University of Delaware that contain Biden’s staff personnel records because I believe it will have my complaint form, as well as my separation letter and other documents,” Ms. Reade told Fox News.
“Maybe if other staffers that have tried to file complaints would come to light. Why are they under seal? And why won’t they be released to the public?” she said.
The demand came after Business Insider reported this week Ms. Reade had shared her story at the time with a Lynda LaCassa, a neighbor, and Lorraine Sanchez, who worked with Ms. Reade for California state Sen. Jack O’Connell from 1994 to 1996.
“I remember her saying, here was this person that she was working for — and she idolized him,” Ms. LaCassa said in the report. “He kind of put her up against a wall, and he put his hand up her skirt and he put his fingers inside her. She felt like she was assaulted, and she really didn’t feel there was anything she could do.”
Days earlier, video footage from 1993 was unearthed in which it appears a woman whom Ms. Reade identifies as her mother calls into CNN’s “Larry King Live” show seeking advice on what her daughter, who had recently left her post working for a “prominent senator,” should do to report her “problems.”
The caller neither identified herself nor mentioned Mr. Biden or sexual assault.
Mr. Biden is facing mounting calls to address the accusation more directly.
David Sirota, who served as a speechwriter and senior adviser to Sen. Bernard Sanders’ 2020 bid, said Mr. Biden “needs to answer questions about the sexual assault allegations.”
“I don’t know why this is hard for anyone to agree with,” Mr. Sirota said on Twitter this week. “If you’ve spent the last few years publicly insisting that we must take such allegations seriously, this shouldn’t be hard for you to agree with.”
Shaun King, another Sanders surrogate, said the accusations that surfaced last year that he “touched, petted, stroked, smelled or kissed” nearly a dozen different women “should’ve ended his candidacy.”
“I literally think he was the ONLY Democratic candidate with this history,” Mr. King said.
More broadly, the new accusation has fed into a broader debate over whether the Democrats and activists in the #MeToo movement that were quick to try to torpedo Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the high court in 2018 with unproven and less-corroborated accusations of teenage sexual misconduct have been exposed as hypocrites.
Weighing in around that time, Mr. Biden said a women’s claims about sexual assault should be presumed to be true.
“For a woman to come forward in the flaring lights of focus, nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real, whether or not she forgets facts, whether or not it’s been made worse or better over time,” he said. “But nobody fails to understand that this is like jumping into a cauldron.”
“I’m aware of the new developments in Tara Reade’s accusation against Joe Biden,” she said. “I want Tara, like every other survivor, to have the space to be heard and seen without being used as fodder. I hear and see you, Tara. #MeToo”
Trump campaign pounces
The Trump campaign has signaled the accusations against Mr. Biden are fair game.
His camp blasted out a PBS interview this week on social media in which Mr. Biden was asked about the #MeToo Movement, and said: “Women should be believed.”
They posed another clip of Fox News host Tucker Carlson pointing out that Democrats set a clear standard during the Kavanaugh hearings: That they always believe women.
Trump campaign spokesman Ken Farnaso said there is “no doubt a double standard” exists.
“It comes as no surprise that the Democrats and mainstream media have given Joe Biden a pass on his sexual assault allegations,” Mr. Farnaso said. “It’s baffling that nearly everyone in American politics has been asked for a reaction to this except Joe Biden himself. Is he off-limits?”
The campaign also posted a photograph of Mr. Biden grinning ear to ear in a photograph alongside former President Bill Clinton that it identified as being from 1993 — the year of the Reade accusations.
Mr. Clinton became the focus of Mr. Trump’s attacks in 2016 when he marched out some of the women who had accused Mr. Clinton of sexual misconduct as an attack on Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.
Mr. McKenna said the line of attacks could have its limits.
“There exists within the Trump team a sotto voce but durable conversation about the allocation of time and resources spent attacking the other guy versus defending the record,” Mr. McKenna said. “At a certain point, incumbents have to defend the record.”