Joe Biden speaks at the Second Step Presidential Justice Forum at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. in 2019. (CNS photo/Sam Wolfe, Reuters)

Tara Reade’s allegation that Joseph Biden sexually assaulted her when she was a Senate aide in 1993 is the gravest, but not the first, accusation of improper behavior toward women by the former vice president. In April 2019, when it became clear that Biden would run for president, seven other women described incidents of unwanted and inappropriate touching, massaging, and kissing. Biden responded then with regret that he might have made people feel uncomfortable with his touchy-feely style, claiming that that was “never [his] intention.” But he has strongly denied Reade’s assault charge. And there are inconsistencies in her account. She says sexual harassment was rampant and well known in Biden’s senate office; PBS recently interviewed seventy-four former Biden staffers, none of whom recalled any instance of it.

Predictably, much of the reaction to Reade’s claim has focused on its potential effect on the election. Coverage and opinion fall mainly along partisan lines. Right-wing media outlets have gleefully run with the story; Democrats and liberal commentators have largely lined up behind the likely nominee, who they perceive is the party’s best bet to defeat Donald Trump—himself accused by twenty-three women of a range of sexual offenses, from harassment to rape. Democratic voters are largely unfazed by Reade’s allegations; only 15 percent say they’re credible, according to a HuffPost/YouGov poll, as opposed to 48 percent of Republicans. Forget the principles of #MeToo; polling indicates that one’s opinion of Reade’s allegation is far more influenced by party allegiance.

A proper DNC inquiry is just what’s needed to give Reade’s allegation the full attention it deserves. Why be so afraid to carry one out?

Writing in the Atlantic, Moira Donegan laments this “vile battle” between two camps trying to make Reade’s pain into what they want it to be. “On both sides,” Donegan writes, “women’s suffering is viewed as a tool for other agendas, rather than as a moral emergency in and of itself.” Amen to that. Reade’s claim should be taken seriously instead of weaponized or preemptively dismissed. If #MeToo teaches us anything, it’s that the powerful men who seem like “good guys” to most of us can sometimes, in private, be anything but. Yet some Democratic leaders have twisted the #MeToo slogan by insisting they “believe Joe Biden” after his categorical denial on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the #MeToo movement has “made a great contribution to our country,” but that she is “satisfied” with how Biden responded to the allegations and will continue to support him. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that Biden’s response was “sufficient,” adding, “Before the #MeToo movement, women were not listened to who were telling what had happened to them. Since #MeToo, women are listened to.” Democrats who may be eyeing Biden’s running-mate spot, like Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar, as well as Stacey Abrams, have made similar statements. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, when asked about the possibility of an independent DNC investigation, referred to the background check Biden underwent before Barack Obama selected him as vice president. “Barack Obama trusted Joe Biden,” he stated. “I trust Joe Biden.”

But a proper DNC inquiry is just what’s needed to give Reade’s allegation the full attention it deserves. Why be so afraid to carry one out? If the evidence is compelling enough on either side, then voters will know whether or not they have a candidate they can be confident in. As Representative Ayanna Pressley recently said: “I reject the false choice that my party and our nominee can’t address the allegations at hand and defeat the occupant of the White House.”

Regina Munch is an associate editor at Commonweal.

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Published in the June 2020 issue: View Contents
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