Opinion / Politics

Tough Questions for Joe Biden

BidenSo, let’s get this straight: A total of eight women have now accused presumptive Democratic candidate Joe Biden of “inappropriate touching” during his career. One has accused him of extended touching during her employment, concluding in an egregious sexual assault. Still, half a dozen possible female running mates and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorse him. So, where are the tough questions?

Faced with a detailed allegation of sexual assault, Mr. Biden remained silent for five weeks.  His campaign championed his record for women. Extraordinarily – likely a precondition to interviews – Mr. Biden was not asked about the assault in 10 interviews, until May 1.

On May 1, confronted with the allegation by Tara Reade, a Biden staff assistant between December 1992 and August 1993, Biden said:  “No, it’s not true… never, never happened.”

He added three non-answers. First, he said women “deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and when they step forward they should be heard,” but added stories “should be subject to appropriate inquiry and scrutiny.” Well, there’s a start.

Second, knowing the staffer has no copy of her complaint, Biden challenged someone to find a complaint. He professed no memory of any complaint against him, as “it was 27 years ago.” Notably, he did not deny knowing Reade, failed to say what “it” was, and offered no details.

Biden’s Senate records are held at the University of Delaware, which has said they will not be released. Biden said they “do not contain personnel files.” He would know, as he donated them. He could easily have neglected to include the complaint. It would be an admission against interest, and rather damning.  Biden might have concluded removal presented less risk than inclusion.  In any event, those records are – by decision of the University – sealed.

Biden deflected to the National Archives. Similarly, the Archives receives material presented by a retiring Senator or the Senate. Conveniently, the personnel office that would have taken Reade’s complaint no longer exists – nor apparently do any of its records.

Perhaps knowing this ahead of time, Biden offered: “If there was ever any such complaint, the record will be there.” Maybe not. Over the past five weeks, Biden’s team had time to explore.

This is all quite convenient, making Biden’s latest statements rather suspect. Said Biden: “I am prepared to do that… To the best of my knowledge there have been no complaints against me in terms of my Senate career, in terms of my office.” Yes, well maybe and maybe not.

Oddest of all, despite the specificity of Reade’s claim – sexual assault with criminal and civil implications, if true – Biden has not been asked the tough questions. He might have answers, but he has yet to be put on the spot. Why not?

Strikingly, reporters have not subjected Biden to lines of questioning he pressed on Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and his Democrat colleagues pressed on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Why not?

To be specific, Mr. Biden should be asked – and might have been under oath if the statute of limitations had not run – some obvious questions. Examples:  Mr. Biden, the allegation includes extended touching of a young woman in your office during 1993. Do you recall this woman? Did you ever speak with her, about what? Why did you wait five weeks to respond to the allegation?

Did you ever touch her? If so, why, and how? Did she ever indicate not wanting to be touched? Were you ever alone with her? Did you ever pin her against a wall, and do what she alleges you did to her? Why do you think she suddenly left your office nine months after starting?

You indicate not remembering any complaint by her. Do you recall any female employees complaining about your behavior? Did anyone in Senate Personnel ever speak with you?

Do you recall that the same year this sexual assault is alleged to have occurred, you suddenly introduced the Violence Against Women Act?  You were in Congress 20 years before that – what motivated you to introduce that bill that year?  Why did you not speak on it before 1993?

When you introduced that bill, do you recall favorable reactions? Having recalled those reactions from 27 years ago – do you now recall this woman from that same time?

If a man is credibly accused of sexual assault by a woman, supported by attestations of others from the time, should her account be treated as presumptively true or untrue? If untrue, why? If true, in the context of seven other allegations against you, how do you disprove this allegation?

Stepping back from all this, Biden may not be able to prove his innocence and his latest accuser may not be able to prove the sexual assault. On the other hand, how a candidate reacts to a specific, time-fenced and serious allegation – in front of reporters, colleagues, and the American public – can be valuable.

That is why this issue is not going away, regardless of endorsements of Biden by possible female running mates and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who says she is not to be “lectured.” A presumptive nominee owes candor. The public can then decide. For that to happen, tough questions must be asked. So far, they have not been.

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