On Friday, former Vice President Joe Biden appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe for an 18-minute interview to address the sexual assault claim made against him by Tara Reade, a former aide of Biden’s who worked for him during his time as a senator in 1993.
Biden’s interview came nearly a month after Reade filed a complaint against him. For several weeks, news outlets such as The New York Times, Vox, The Guardian, and The Intercept reported on Reade’s story. Besides a statement from his campaign staff, Biden himself had remained silent on the matter up until his MSNBC appearance and in a blog post on his Medium account that was published earlier the same morning.
In the post, Biden maintains that Reade’s allegations are false, writing “They aren’t true. This never happened.”
“While the details of these allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault are complicated, two things are not complicated,” Biden went on to write. “One is that women deserve to be treated with dignity and respect…they should be heard, not silenced. The second is that their stories should be subject to appropriate inquiry and scrutiny.”
In addition to Reade, seven other women have accused Biden of making them feel uncomfortable under various situations, such as hugs and shoulder squeezes that went on “just a little bit too long” and an instance, in which, one accuser claims he smelled her hair and kissed the back of her head.
With no fanfare, Morning Joe host Mika Brzezinski welcomed the presumptive nominee of the Democratic primary to the program and dove into her first question, asking if Reade’s accusal of sexual assault was true. Reade, as Brzezinski noted, claims that Biden had reached underneath her dress and inserted his fingers into her genitalia during an encounter she had with her former boss.
Biden firmly denied the allegation.
“No, it is not true. I’m saying unequivocally it never, never happened.”
Brzezinski followed up by asking Biden if he remembered her or any complaints that Reade might have made during her time on the then-senator’s staff.
“I don’t remember any type of complaint she may have made. It was 27 years ago…the fact is I don’t remember. I don’t remember any complaint having been made.”
After an extended dialogue about whether Biden remembered Reade making any complaints during her time as a staffer of his or whether any similar complaints could be found regarding him in the National Archives, Brzezinski turned the focus to Biden’s comments during 2018’s highly-publicized hearing of then-Supreme Court nominee-turned current Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford. In a statement regarding Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh, Biden stressed that when women are willing to come forward publically to make such claims and face all sorts of scrutiny, the “essence” of their claims must be initially presumed to be true.
“You were unequivocal, Mr. Vice President, back in 2018 during the Kavanaugh controversy,” Brzezinski said. “You said this: ‘For a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she is talking about is real, whether or not she forgets the facts, whether or not it’s been made worse or better over time.’”
Underscoring Biden’s own words regarding a similar situation that he now finds himself the center of, Brzezinski asked: “Should we not start off with the presumption that the essence of what she’s (Reade) talking about is real?”
“From the very beginning, I’ve said believing women means taking the woman’s claim seriously when she steps forward, and then vet it,” said the former Vice President. “…Women have a right to be heard, and the press should rigorously investigate claims they make…But in the end, in every case, the truth is what matters. And in this case, the truth is the claims are false.”
The remainder of the interview continued in similar fashion. Brzezinski would ask a carefully worded question or mention some information relevant to the situation: the resealing of Biden’s Senate documents which were supposed to go public; a question of whether any N.D.A.s were signed by Reade or any other woman employed by Biden and a mention of the stark contrast between the Democrats’ mass support of Ford’s case against Kavanaugh versus their uniform silence and support of Biden in light of his allegations, which prompted Brzezinski to ask, “Are women to be believed—are women to be believed unless it pertains to you?”
In every instance, Biden voiced similar responses: “It never happened.” “Look at the facts.” “The truth matters.”
In the past weeks, Reade has been put under a microscope. In her first interview, done on a podcast with journalist Katie Halper, Reade told Halper that during her nine-month stint working for Biden that she “…would see him at meetings and he would basically put his hands on [her], put his hands on [her] shoulder, run his fingers on [her] neck…it made [her] feel like an inanimate object. [She] didn’t feel like a person. He didn’t make conversation with [her] or talk with [her] or ask [her] anything relevant.”
Reade went on to say that she had filed a formal complaint about Biden during the time she was employed as a staff assistant for the then-Senator, opting to go through official protocol rather than the media. Reade noted that she made no mention of the sexual assault that she claims took place.
“I did not complain formally about the other piece of what happened [the alleged sexual assault] that I’ll talk about in a few minutes,” Reade said. “But I talked about what was witnessed, and the general atmosphere of the office, the way I was treated.”
According to Reade, following her complaint, her supervisor took issue with her, insisting that Reade take Biden’s attention with flattery and stay silent if she “wanted to last.”
“I was met with some of [my supervisor’s] attitude about the whole thing,” Reade said. “Like why wasn’t I complimented, that people would be flattered to be liked by Joe Biden. And basically she was also admonishing me to keep my head down if I wanted to last. She said that a couple of times and she took me in the hallway a couple of times and kind of chewed me out a few times. Nothing was in writing.”
In her account of the assault, Reade claims that a scheduler for Biden’s Senate office handed her a gym bag and informed her that Biden requested that Reade meet him at the Capitol building so she could give the bag to him. Reade says that the assault took place once she met with Biden in an isolated area of the building after handing him the gym bag.
“He just said ‘Hey, come here, Tara.’ And then I handed him the thing and he greeted me…There was no like exchange really. He just had me up against the wall…the gym bag, I don’t know where it went. I handed it to him. It was gone and then his hands were on me and underneath my clothes. And then he went down my skirt…”
“I remember him saying first before, like as he was doing it, ‘Do you want to go somewhere else?’ And then him saying to me when I pulled away, when he got finished doing what he was doing and I pulled back and he said ‘Come on man, I heard you liked me.’”
Afterward, Reade says that Biden simply walked away following the incident.
“It seemed surreal. And I just felt sick because when he pulled back, he looked annoyed and he looked angry and he said something else to me that I, I don’t want to say. And I must’ve looked shocked [by what he said]. And he grabbed me by the shoulders and he said ‘You’re okay. You’re fine. You’re okay, you’re fine.’ And then, he walked away and he went on with his day.”
Following the publication of Reade’s claims, several Democrats have defended their party’s likely nominee to face President Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez voiced his support of Biden on Sunday while on ABC News’ This Week, saying “I trust Joe Biden.”
“There’s been so many investigations of the vice-president. The most comprehensive investigation of the vice-president was when he was vetted by Barack Obama in 2008. I’m very familiar with the vice-presidential vetting process. They look at everything about you,” said Perez.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a rumored potential running mate of Biden’s, also came to his defense on CNN, saying, “We need to give people an opportunity to tell their story. Then we have a duty to vet it…I have read a lot about this current allegation. I know Joe Biden. And I’ve watched his defense. And there’s not a pattern that goes into this. And I think for these reasons, I’m very comfortable that Joe Biden is who he says he is.”
Democrats have faced criticism for their blanket support of Biden from both Republicans and from within their own party. The denouncements revolve around claims that the Democrats implored the notion of “believe all women” during the Kavanaugh hearings, which resulted in numerous fundraising efforts and energized voters to activate the “blue wave” during the 2018 midterms which saw the Democrats taking back the House. Now that the target is one of their own, critics have accused the Democrats of hypocrisy.
“There is a clear double standard between how the media and Democrats treated Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations versus Tara Reade’s allegations,” said Mike Davis, former aide to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. “It was stunning to see Democrats say they believed Joe Biden even before he’d spoken a word about this.”
An anonymous Democratic strategist told The Hill that, as a result of their approach toward the Kavanaugh hearings, “We (the Democratic party) set up a standard we can’t live by. No one likes to discuss it but it’s the reality…It looks terrible for him (Biden) and for the party. You can’t say you believe women and then take it all back because it doesn’t apply to you.”
Meanwhile, Republicans have smelled blood in the water and have begun to weaponize Reade’s accusations against Biden and the Democrats. In a recent National Review article titled “The Biden-Kavanaugh Double Standard,” conservative journalist John Hirschauer writes:
“Joe Biden is being treated as an individual — a man being accused of a specific crime that either did, or did not, occur. Brett Kavanaugh was treated as a totem — an antihero, an anti-messianic stand-in for all of History’s various Straight White Men who ‘got away with it,’ who were cushioned from the vagaries of life by their unthinkable ‘privilege,’ lashing out against the browning of America and the long-prophesied end of the Old Boys’ Club.”
Others have been critical of Reade’s claims. In a piece published in the progressive outlet The Nation, national affairs correspondent Joan Walsh writes:
“Reade spoke to several news organizations in the wake of her initial allegations about inappropriate touching. The Associated Press has stated that it did not publish her story at the time because ‘Reporters were unable to corroborate her allegations, and aspects of her story contradicted other reporting.’”
According to Slate, fellow Biden accuser Lucy Flores says that her advice to Reade in a conversation the two held prior to Reade revealing her accusation against the former Vice President last month was “To take it day by day and focus on herself and her truth and her why.”
When asked about certain aspects of Reade’s story changing over time, Flores said, “I don’t consider the evolving stories Reade has told as ‘changing the story.’”
“All she did was leave out details. She hasn’t changed the fundamental substance of any of the things she said she experienced. It has all been parts she omitted.”