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Facing Growing Pressure, Biden Responds To Assault Allegations

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Yesterday, Joe Biden strongly denied allegations of sexual assault from a former staffer. But he also had to square his denial with an idea he supported in the era of #MeToo - to believe women.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")

JOE BIDEN: Look. From the very beginning, I've said believing women means taking the woman's claims seriously when she steps forward and then vet it. Look into it. This - that's true in this case, as well. Women have a right to be heard. And the press should rigorously investigate claims they make.

SIMON: That was the presumptive Democratic nominee for president yesterday on MSNBC. NPR's Asma Khalid has been covering this story. Thanks for being with us.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: My pleasure.

SIMON: Mr. Biden was facing growing pressure to respond. And how much of that was because many Democrats have championed the #MeToo movement?

KHALID: Well, it's definitely a part of the equation. Republicans had been accusing Democrats of being hypocritical because so many of them had been outspoken in their support for Christine Blasey Ford, you know, when she brought an allegation of sexual assault against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. What we saw was a number of Democratic women who took a different tactic. They wholeheartedly endorsed Biden and said that they believe him. And some feminist writers and activists were pointing out that, because Biden had promised to choose a woman as his running mate, that what we saw was a lot of Democratic women trying to answer for Biden. Well, Biden himself was not actually directly responding to the story until yesterday, of course.

SIMON: Now that he has responded, what has the initial response been from women's rights activists and others on the left who had been calling for him to speak up?

KHALID: Well, the common response from Democrats is that, you know, look. Joe Biden has now answered questions. He did not denigrate the accuser personally. He was respectful, they say. And they point out that President Trump faces more than a dozen accusations of sexual assault himself. I heard a similar message from the group Time's Up Now. It's an organization that sprang up as a movement against sexual harassment in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement. In a statement, the group's president pointed out that Biden sat down and addressed the allegation with the seriousness it deserves, which is something that the current president has never done.

You know, some activists have also called for a full investigation. They want transparency. And Biden himself has said that, if there is a record of any sexual harassment complaint, it should be released. But he's also saying he won't open up all of his Senate records. And that's causing some more political problems now for him.

SIMON: The #MeToo movement emerged after Donald Trump got elected. And a lot of people, of course, argue that he's been a major catalyst for it. Has he been limited in attacking Joe Biden?

KHALID: Well, it is definitely tricky for President Trump to have a moral advantage here. You know, he denies the allegations against him. And he said that the allegation against Biden might also be false. Here's what he told Dan Bongino. He's a pro-Trump podcast host.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You're a famous guy. Then you become president. And people just - people that you've never seen, that you've never heard of make charges. So, you know, I guess, in a way, you could say I'm sticking up for him.

KHALID: And, Scott, what we've already begun to see is that Republicans have begun pivoting away from the actual sexual assault allegation and instead have begun to start questioning why he will not fully release all of his Senate records. They're asking, you know, what he's potentially hiding there. It's an attempt to link these records with China. And we're already getting a glimpse of that.

SIMON: NPR's Asma Khalid, thanks so much for being with us.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.