Women’s groups and prominent feminist figures have remained almost universally silent over a former staffer’s accusation of sexual misconduct against former Vice President Joe Biden—including those individuals and groups who came to express regret for how the Democratic Party handled similar accusations made against President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
The collective non-response from mostly Democrat-aligned groups comes as potential female running mates struggle themselves in responding to the Biden allegation, which has the potential to upend his campaign against President Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women in alleged incidents spanning decades. And it echoes the division among progressives when the #MeToo movement revived scrutiny of Clinton’s own alleged sexual misconduct.
The Daily Beast contacted 10 top national pro-women organizations for this story, including Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and the National Organization for Women. Most organizations did not respond to a detailed request for comment about the allegation by Tara Reade, a former staff assistant in Biden’s Senate office who has accused the former vice president of forcibly penetrating her with his fingers in the early 1990s. Others replied and did not provide a statement.
One prominent women’s political group cited a scheduling conflict and asked to be kept “in mind for other opportunities!” When pressed if the following day would work better, an associate said it would not, citing another scheduling conflict.
The near-total lack of acknowledgement from nearly a dozen leading pro-women organizations comes as new corroboration has emerged with respect to the allegation, which the Biden campaign has categorically denied. Neither the Biden campaign nor Reade responded to requests from The Daily Beast for comment Tuesday.
It also is taking place as prominent elected women in the Democratic Party rally to Biden’s side. On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton became the latest to offer her endorsement of Biden’s candidacy—a symbolic passing of the torch from one presidential candidate to another, but a moment that also served as a reminder of moments in recent party history when accusers were almost uniformly dismissed.
In 2017, attorney Patricia Ireland, who served as president of the National Organization for Women for the entirety of the Clinton administration, told The Washington Post that she wished she had “done more to be supportive” of Paula Jones, the former Arkansas state employee who alleges that Bill Clinton sexually harassed her during his time as governor.
“For Paula Jones, there were nice distinctions that people made: She didn’t work for him, he didn’t have the power to hire or fire her,” Ireland said at the time. “But that ignores the reality that he was a very powerful man.”
During the same period, feminist icon Gloria Steinem told The Guardian that she regretted some parts of her aggressive defense of Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, including a New York Times op-ed in which she dismissed accusations of sexual misconduct against the president. “Even if the allegations are true,” Steinem wrote in the 1998 op-ed, “the president is not guilty of sexual harassment. He is accused of having made a gross, dumb and reckless pass. President Clinton took ‘no’ for an answer.”
Steinem told the Guardian that “I wouldn’t write the same thing now because there’s probably more known about other women now. I’m not sure… What you write in one decade you don’t necessarily write in the next.”
But neither Ireland nor Steinem responded to a request for comment about Reade’s accusations against Biden. Bill Clinton has long denied Jones’ claims, settling a lawsuit she filed in 1998 for $850,000 with no apology or admission of wrongdoing.
Speaking to Fox News on Tuesday, Reade accused Hillary Clinton of “enabling a sexual predator.”
“Hillary Clinton has a history of enabling powerful men to cover up their sexual predatory behaviors and their inappropriate sexual misconduct,” Reade said in response to Clinton’s endorsement. “We don’t need that for this country. We don’t need that for our new generation coming up that wants institutional rape culture to change.”
Reade first accused Biden of digitally penetrating her in a podcast interview with journalist Katie Halper in March. Two other people, including Reade’s brother and a friend who has remained anonymous, told various outlets that Reade had told them about certain aspects of the alleged assault and her subsequent dismissal from Biden’s office over the years.
On Monday, Business Insider quoted a former neighbor of Reade’s recounting that the ex-staffer had disclosed details of the alleged assault when she lived next door to her in the mid-1990s. “This happened, and I know it did because I remember talking about it,” Lynda LaCasse, Reade’s former neighbor, told the outlet.
On April 24, Reade told The Intercept that her mother called into Larry King’s cable-news program to discuss “problems” her daughter experienced with a prominent lawmaker in 1993. In the episode, a caller from San Luis Obispo, California—where property records indicate Reade’s mother lived at the time—asked the host “what a staffer might do besides go to the press in Washington.”
“My daughter has just left there after working for a prominent senator and could not get through with her problems at all,” the caller said. “The only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him.”
Reade said on Twitter that it was her mother’s voice. “This is my mom. I miss her so much and her brave support of me.”
Biden’s defenders have argued that Reade’s story has changed over time—she previously had said only that she felt Biden had inappropriately touched her and made her feel uncomfortable. But sexual-assault victims’ advocates have noted that its common for victims to hold back on details as they recount their traumatic experiences.
Various aides to Biden have said they have no recollection of any assault incident happening. And Biden’s deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement this month that “this absolutely did not happen,” and that “Vice President Biden has dedicated his public life to changing the culture and the laws around violence against women.” Bedingfield added: “He firmly believes that women have a right to be heard—and heard respectfully. Such claims should also be diligently reviewed by an independent press. What is clear about this claim: It is untrue.”
Over the past several days, the Biden campaign has signaled that it is paying additional attention to issues that disproportionately affect women. On Monday, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), one of the contenders thought to be on Biden’s shortlist of potential running mates, was a guest on a virtual town hall with black leaders on coronavirus’ impact on women of color. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), another possible running mate and former Biden rival, was also featured in a virtual forum addressing similar women’s focused issues late last week.
On Tuesday, in introducing Clinton during a virtual town hall, Biden declared she is “the woman who should be president of the United States right now.”
“I want to add my voice to the many who have endorsed you,” Clinton said during the event to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on women. “This is a moment where we need a leader, a president, like Joe Biden.” Biden, she said, has been “preparing for this moment his entire life.” The former vice president reciprocated by saying it was a “wonderful personal endorsement.”
On Monday, in offering her own backing, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi called him a “partner for progress in the White House.”
Four years ago, women’s groups threw their weight behind Clinton’s historic campaign as the Democratic Party’s first female nominee. But they remained largely out of the primary in 2020, when an unprecedented number of women campaigned with that similar goal in mind. Still, some groups haven’t been shy about criticizing parts of Biden’s past record relating to women.
In the early stages of Biden’s campaign, Planned Parenthood Action Fund took issue with a position he previously held around support for the Hyde Amendment, a provision that sought to restrict the use of federal money for abortion. In June 2019, the group’s executive director specifically called out Biden by name, reminding him that “the Democratic Party platform is crystal-clear” around repealing Hyde. Biden later denounced his support of the amendment.
Now, as Biden faces a sexual-assault allegation as the presumptive nominee, his past record and prominent female defenders are facing a new round of scrutiny. In particular, the decision to select a female running mate delighted many party activists and women’s rights advocates when Biden announced it in March, but is taking on a new form as the Reade allegation receives additional corroboration.
Already, potential nominees are having to answer questions about the allegation. The Daily Beast recently contacted the most prominent figures thought to be considered as possible contenders about Reade’s claim, including Harris, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams.
Among the seven Democratic women’s offices reached, only Abrams commented, telling The Daily Beast that “women have the right to be heard” and adding, in part, that “nothing in the Times review suggests anything other than what I already knew: That Joe Biden is a man of highest integrity who will make all women proud as our next president.”