What Biden's Response To Sexual Assault Allegations Means For His Campaign
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
It's not true, and it never happened. That is what former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is saying about an allegation that he sexually assaulted a junior staffer nearly three decades ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")
JOE BIDEN: To the best of my knowledge, there've been no complaints made against me in terms of my Senate career in terms of my office and anything - how things have been run. Look; this is an open book. There's nothing for me to hide, nothing at all.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Biden's interview today on MSNBC is the first time he has directly addressed Tara Reade's claim that he touched her inappropriately. Well, we're going to talk more about the implications of this for his campaign and his presidential hopes with David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome, David.
DAVID BROOKS: Good to be with you.
KELLY: And Susan Glasser of The New Yorker, welcome to you.
SUSAN GLASSER: Thank you so much, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Susan, I'm going to throw you the first question, and it's a timing one. These allegations have been out there for weeks. NPR has spoken to Reade several times during those weeks. But as I mentioned, this is the first time the former vice president has chosen to address the matter directly. Why, do we think, and why now?
GLASSER: Well, it's a good question. We have not yet heard on a major television interview from Tara Reade. I expect that we will do sometime in the next few days. So that, in a way, increases the urgency, of course, for the former vice president to address this, which he did in this interview this morning.
KELLY: To try to get out in front of it, yeah.
GLASSER: Well, I think that was a factor for sure.
KELLY: OK. I mean, you have both spent a good chunk of your careers observing politicians navigating crises. David, what did you make of Biden's comments today? Do you think he did enough to dispel the charges?
BROOKS: I think he was credible and certainly persuasive. I'm not sure they're totally dispellable (ph) by him. I think we have to wait and see what we learn. I mean, on Reade's behalf, it is compelling that she had contemporary evidence that she told people right at the time. The thing that cuts against her story is she said she told three members of Biden's staff, two men and a woman, and they all deny that that conversation ever happened. And I think they would have searingly remembered it. And then the third thing, I think - or the second thing that I think that's against her is just Joe Biden. I've covered Joe Biden for 20 years. And he has flaws, but cruelty is not one of them, and dehumanizing human beings is not one of them. And so that's not to clear him yet. I think we should be open-minded about it. But it's not an open-and-shut case by any means.
KELLY: Yeah. I mean, this matters among other reasons because we have a presidential election looming. So I'm going to put to both of you a big picture question, which is just the moment that these allegations are unfolding in - a very different moment, obviously, than when #MeToo stories were front and center every day in 2017, 2018. Right now we're living in a country that is shut down, when a lot of people don't have jobs, when a lot of people are fearful for their health. What is your instinct of how these allegations may factor into voters' decisions?
BROOKS: I would say that they won't. Unless some - another victim comes forward, I do not think they will be a big factor in people's lives. For Democrats, beating Donald Trump is just such a massive factor, and surviving the crisis is such a massive factor. The doubts that this may have happened will play seriously on people's consciences. But just observing Democratic leaders so far, pretty much people have stuck with Biden as - and suppose he is feeling very comfortable about it.
KELLY: Susan, you agree?
GLASSER: Well, look. I think David's point is broadly something I do agree with. But remember; you know, it does add to the sort of fog machine and to the weaponization of almost any piece of information, false or true, in our political system right now. And, you know, one question I have is, would this prove useful to Donald Trump even if we don't receive any more corroboration at all, even if new evidence does not emerge? And, you know, in a way, Trump, of course, has been faced with credible allegations from a large number of women over the course of his life, even before he was...
KELLY: More than a dozen...
GLASSER: ...A political official.
KELLY: ...Allegations of sexual assault - that's right. Yeah.
GLASSER: Exactly. And so the question is, does this create some sort of deniability for him that he's not the only candidate to be accused of such a thing? Remember that they're - a, you know, key constituency in this election, of course, are white women voters, who narrowly went for Donald Trump in 2016. They may prove the pivot point in 2020 what that key demographic group make of these allegations. So, you know, I think David's broader point is correct, but there are certainly political uses for these allegations against Joe Biden even if we don't get any more evidence whatsoever.
KELLY: Well, I mean, let's go to the particular dilemma that Reade's allegations seem to present for Democrats, the party that has prided itself all through the #MeToo movement on believing women, on making sure women's voices are heard. And now the man who is almost certain to be their presidential nominee is being accused of sexual assault. Susan, how do they navigate that?
GLASSER: Well, look. There is an almost irresistible media hypocrisy storyline or just general political hypocrisy storyline. You hear a lot - the conservative media right now is giving a lot of airtime to these charges and essentially saying, hey, Democrats. Hey, commentators. If you said, you know, X about Brett Kavanaugh when he was accused, you know, in a decades-old allegation, then you have to say the same thing about Joe Biden. Now, of course, both parties are extremely vulnerable to the charge of hypocrisy on this.
GLASSER: And so, you know, voters may throw up their hands and say, how can I possibly come to a fact-based, reasonable conclusion about a 27-year-old thing, in which case their default setting may be their partisan bias going into it. That's not even unreasonable at this point.
KELLY: Right. I want to play just a little bit more of the MSNBC interview and what Biden actually said because there is a moment that illustrates this dilemma. This is Mika Brzezinski questioning Biden about Christine Blasey Ford, who accused then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of assaulting her back when they were both high school students.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: But, Mr. Vice President, as it pertained to Dr. Ford, everyone wanted - a high-level Democrat said she should be believed, that they believed it happened. You said if someone like Dr. Ford were to come out, the essence of what she is saying has to be believed, has to be real.
BIDEN: I know what I said.
BIDEN: It has to be...
BRZEZINSKI: Why is it real for Dr. Ford but not for Tara Reade?
BIDEN: There - because the facts are - look. She - I'm not suggesting she has no right to come forward, and I never - and I'm not saying any woman - they should come forward. They should be heard, and then it should be investigated. It should be investigated. And if there's anything that makes a - that is consistent with what's being said and she makes the case or the case is made, then it should be believed. But ultimately, the truth matters. The truth matters.
KELLY: David Brooks, I'm going to give you the last word here and let you react to that exchange - surely not the last time we're going to hear Joe Biden being asked about this.
BROOKS: Yeah. I mean, I do think if this would've been an allegation against a Republican, it wouldn't take six weeks to come out. But I do think we're getting it the proper standard in these cases. People's - these accounts should be taken with utmost seriousness, but a mere assertion is not proof. And so you have to balance the seriousness with normal proof-finding and truth-finding. So I think we're getting to that point that not everything, every assertion can be true, but every assertion should be taken extremely seriously.
KELLY: That is David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times. We were also speaking with Susan Glasser, who writes the Letter From Washington column for The New Yorker. Thanks, you two.
BROOKS: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF THIEVERY CORPORATION'S "SAUDADE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.