WASHINGTON >> Joe Biden will publicly address an allegation of sexual assault for the first time in an appearance on morning television Friday, after weeks of silence on the issue that had prompted frustration from Democrats and attacks from Republicans seeking to weaken him for a general election contest against President Donald Trump.
Biden will discuss the allegation on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, according to a Twitter post from the network. The decision followed intensive discussions in the Biden campaign about how to more forcefully confront the allegation.
The planned appearance came as scrutiny of the allegation intensified along partisan lines on Capitol Hill today. Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker and the Democratic Party’s highest-ranking officeholder, expressed support for Biden’s presidential bid while Republicans weaponized the accusation to attack congressional Democrats as hypocritical.
The allegation Biden will address was made by a former aide in his Senate office, Tara Reade, who has said Biden assaulted her in a Senate building in 1993. Biden’s campaign has said the accusation is not true, but the former vice president himself had not addressed the issue publicly. His silence has raised questions among some Democrats about the agility of his campaign operation and its ability to navigate what is widely expected to be a heated and deeply divisive presidential campaign this fall.
It has also frustrated some activists and prominent women’s groups who support Biden’s bid but have pushed his campaign to make a public statement on the allegation to allay concerns on an issue that deeply resonates with their party’s base. Other women in the party privately were irritated that Biden’s most prominent female supporters have been asked to answer for the allegation in media interviews, while he has remained silent.
The Biden campaign has told allies that it does not believe the issue is affecting how voters view Biden and his character. Since Reade’s allegation surfaced, Biden has not been asked about it in any interviews. The Biden campaign has not made him available for an interview with The New York Times.
The issue did not come up today during a virtual event Biden held on Instagram with soccer star Megan Rapinoe, known for her equal pay advocacy and support of female empowerment. Some of the comments posted during the video urged Rapinoe to ask about Reade’s allegation.
By appearing on MSNBC, a network that features left-leaning programming and commentators, Biden is choosing a relatively comfortable venue for discussing a sensitive topic, one that is likely to reach the Democratic audience he needs to persuade.
As the clamor around the allegations rose today, Pelosi sought to calm anxious Democrats during her weekly news conference, calling Biden a person of “great integrity” and saying that there were no records or additional witnesses corroborating the account.
“I want to remove all doubt in anyone’s mind: I have a great comfort level with the situation as I see it, with all due respect in the world for any woman who comes forward, with all the highest regard for Joe Biden,” Pelosi told reporters.
“There is a lot of excitement around the idea that women will be heard and be listened to,” she said, and expressed “complete respect” for the #MeToo movement. “There is also due process and the fact that Joe Biden is Joe Biden.”
Her comments came as Republicans expanded their attacks against Biden, the party’s presumptive nominee, as well as a broad array of Democratic candidates, calling the party hypocritical on issues of sexual violence, harassment and gender inequality. They also compared the way Democrats have responded to Reade’s allegation with their response to accusations of sexual assault in 2018 against Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
Already, the Trump campaign has signaled that it plans to make the allegation against Biden a central part of its campaign narrative, accusing him in a memo Wednesday of “misrepresenting news reports and his own past positions in an effort to put controversies to bed or to level charges against the president.”
Trump himself waded somewhat tentatively into the conversation today. Asked by a reporter about Reade’s allegation, Trump said, “I think he should respond. It could be false accusations.
“I know all about false accusations. I’ve been falsely charged numerous times — and there is such a thing,” he added, before pivoting to talk about Kavanaugh, whom he said was “falsely charged.”
Trump has been accused of sexual assault and misconduct by more than a dozen women who have described behavior that went far beyond the allegation against Biden. Trump has also repeatedly denigrated women over their appearance and intellect.
At a time when congressional Republicans and their strategists fear being dragged down by Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, top party leaders see an opportunity to move the political conversation toward a focus on Biden and his long record.
Pelosi’s Republican counterpart, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, quickly said her reasoning was insufficient.
“She’s being a hypocrite,” McCarthy said. “You can’t say one thing about every other time she has commented about any other accusation and now say this is different.”
Republicans circulated remarks Pelosi made after the confirmation of Kavanaugh to underscore their point. In a statement at the time, Pelosi said that in declining to fully investigate the assault allegations against the Supreme Court nominee, Senate Republicans had failed women across America.
“Senate Republicans chose to send a clear message to all women: Do not speak out, and if you do, do not expect to be heard, believed or respected,” she said at the time.