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Former Vice President Joe Biden went on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program Friday morning to address the claim by Tara Reade, who served on his Senate staff in the 1990s, that he had sexually assaulted her.
In denying Reade’s allegation personally, rather than leaving the denials to his campaign, the prospective Democratic presidential nominee did what a lot of supporters hoped he would do. He said the assault alleged by Reade “never happened” and made it clear that he thinks no excavation of records from his Senate career would turn up evidence of a complaint filed by Reade.
That unequivocal denial was exactly what we needed to hear from Biden. It leaves him with no wiggle room, but — assuming it holds up — it should hearten supporters who wanted him to personally confront Reade’s accusation. And he did so without attacking Reade or accusing her of improper motives.
But some of Biden’s other comments in his interview with Mika Brzezinski were probably less helpful to his candidacy.
Biden dismissed a suggestion made by several commentators, including the Los Angeles Times editorial board, that a search of Biden’s senatorial papers donated to the University of Delaware should be conducted to see if they contain information about Reade or any complaint she may have filed.
Biden insisted that the papers, which have not been made public, wouldn’t provide any useful information about Reade because they include speeches and interviews, not personnel files. The latter sort of document, he said, would be in the possession of the National Archives.
In a statement posted Friday, Biden said he was asking the secretary of the Senate to ask the Archives to identify any record of the complaint Reade said she filed and make any such document available to the press.
Even so, Brzezinski asked Biden, shouldn’t the papers at the University of Delaware be searched to see if there is any reference to a complaint by Reade? It’s a fair question, and by not opening those documents to inspection, Biden will only give breathing room to critics who claim he’s hiding something.
Perhaps the most damaging part of the interview concerned not the truth or falsity of Reade’s allegation but whether Biden and other Democrats have been inconsistent when it comes to believing women who say they were victims of sexual assault.
Brzezinski confronted Biden with a statement he made during the 2018 controversy over an allegation by Christine Blasey Ford that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had assaulted her when they were teenagers.
At the time, Biden said: “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’s talking about is real, whether or not she forgets facts, whether or not it’s been made worse or better over time.”
Biden struggled in the interview to reconcile his comments during the Kavanaugh affair with his rejection of Reade’s claim. Offering what seems like a new gloss on the rallying cry, Biden told Brzezinski that “believing women means taking a woman’s claims seriously when she steps forward, and then vet it.”
As a normative statement of how allegations like Reade’s should be viewed, Biden is surely correct. But it remains true that Democrats — and Republicans too — are likelier to believe such accusations when they are directed at someone in the other party.
Michael McGough is the Los Angeles Times’ senior editorial writer, based in Washington, D.C.