Joe Biden just missed a golden opportunity to address the Tara Reade allegations
Posted April 28, 2020 7:27 p.m. EDT
CNN — When Joe Biden's campaign announced Monday that the former vice president would hold a virtual town hall on Tuesday focused on how Covid-19 is impacting women, it seemed like the perfect opportunity -- whether naturally arising or created by the candidate or his staff -- for the de facto 2020 Democratic presidential nominee to address the allegations of sexual assault leveled at him by one-time Senate staffer Tara Reade.
Except he didn't.
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. Here's why.
Biden and his side are operating under the assumption that if they don't give Reade's allegations any more than the statement offered by deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield -- in which she denies Reade's claims -- then this will all go away shortly. There's plenty of reason to believe that is not, in fact, the case.
Consider that for weeks the allegations made by Reade -- a former Senate staffer who says she was sexually assaulted by the then-Delaware senator in the early 1990s -- have been circulating in (mostly) conservative circles. And that over the last few days, Reade's claim appears to have jumped to a new level when a call to Larry King's CNN show back in 1993 surfaced. The call appears to show Reade's mother asking King for advice about how to handle "problems" her daughter had while working for a prominent US senator.
"I'm wondering what a staffer would do besides go to the press in Washington?" the woman asks King. "My daughter has just left there after working for a prominent senator, and could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him."
The woman does not mention Reade's name, her own name or that of Biden or mention sexual assault. Reade has told CNN that she is certain it is her mother's voice -- and some of the details of the call (it was from San Luis Obispo, California, where her mother lived at the time) seem to suggest it was indeed Reade's mother, who died a few years ago.
And on Tuesday, CNN reported Reade's ex-neighbor said she told her about the allegation about Biden in the 1990s.
The simple fact is that the clamor for Biden to personally address this is getting louder not going away. And there are a few reasons to think that trend will continue:
1) As the country slowly but surely emerges from the haze of the social distancing and stay-at-home orders necessitated by the coronavirus, they will begin to start paying attention to stories other than the virus and its effects. And the 2020 presidential race will be at or near the top of that list. The idea that an allegation like this will go away as people start to dial back in (or dial in) to the race seems far-fetched.
2) The #MeToo movement fundamentally altered -- in a good way! -- how these sort of allegations are treated. No longer are women's claims of harassment (or worse) dismissed or doubted. The mantra "believe women" has taken hold throughout society as time after time victims and journalists have exposed men abusing their position or power. In that environment, it's not possible for Biden to simply deploy a staffer -- albeit a high-ranking female staffer -- to deny the allegation and be done with it.
3) 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.
And then there's this, which is more important than all of that: If we are going to believe women and take their accusations seriously -- which Biden should do by acknowledging and publicly answering questions about Reade's accusation -- then we have to do so whether or not the person being accused is a member of your preferred political party. Otherwise, we are creating a deeply unfair double standard.
That's that reality Biden faces. And it's why he should have used his platform on Tuesday to get on top of this story before it rolls over him.