Two new Biden revelations

There have been two major developments in the case of Tara Reade’s allegations against Joe Biden in the past few days, and they’re important to understand because they collectively tip the conversation about her away from her credibility and toward what to do now that her credibility is rather effectively established.

But first, I know that I’m going to get a decent number of angry replies to this email -- and I don’t begrudge that at all; in fact, I appreciate the feedback. So let me pre-answer some of it. To the question of why on earth would you be reporting on this when we’re facing a deadly global pandemic in the midst of a presidential election of existential importance? As Biden likes to say, Here’s the deal: I decided early in my career that I would never suppress a story if the only reason I were doing so was concern about its political implications. If you do that, you’re no longer a journalist. What’s more, nobody knows what the implications or consequences of reporting a story will be. We might think we know, but we don’t. Indeed, it’s quite possible that reporting this story now actually helps Biden in the long run, as he’d be dealing with it in October instead. That could be wrong, but the point is, it’s not for me to decide. My job is to find and report stories of importance, and then let people -- voters, politicians, etc. -- decide what to do with them. 

The background, if you missed it: A former Biden staffer, Tara Reade, has said that in 1993 Biden sexually assaulted her. Last year, she also came forward to say he touched her inappropriately in the office, rubbing her neck, etc., and created a hostile work environment. While I was reporting the story, she told me that her mother had called in to the Larry King Live show in the 1990s and discussed her situation, saying she was harassed by a “prominent senator,” but giving no details. I couldn’t find the clip, but mentioned its potential existence in an interview with podcaster Katie Halper. A listener to her show managed to find it and sent me the transcript of the show on Friday. I verified it and published it, and video of it has since emerged.

The call did not prove that an assault took place, and didn’t even prove that Reade told her mother about the assault. She says she did, her brother and a friend confirm that she told her mother, but her mother died in 2016. What it does prove is that Reade told her mother something that disturbed her so much that she decided to make that call.

Reade has since listened to the phone call. "It was almost a spiritual experience, because my mom loved me so much and supported me," Reade told Rich McHugh, who was Ronan Farrow’s investigative producer at NBC News (and is a lead character in Catch and Kill, Farrow’s terrific book). "I get emotional even now, and I gave her such a hard time about [calling] Larry King's show that I feel really bad that I couldn't say to her now, 'Thank you so much,' and give her a hug. And I think the most powerful part for me was just how she crossed space and time to help me."

On Monday, McHugh reported two new elements of the story: A woman Reade worked with in the ‘90s recalled her telling the story of being harassed in Biden’s office and having no recourse to address it, and a former neighbor of Reade’s recalled Reade telling her about the assault in the mid-’90s. You can read the on-record accounts of both women for yourself, but the bar for the credibility of her allegation has clearly been reached. If you count her mother (and I do, because two people confirm she told her mother), she now has four people she told contemporaneously, and other elements of her story have checked out. 

The question then becomes what to do with these allegations. What Reade has long said is that she wants an apology, and maybe there’s some way Biden can find a path to that, though I’m skeptical. Biden is not going to drop out just based on these new revelations; he’d only do so under enormous pressure from party leaders and donors, and they’ll only do that if his polls erode, and we’re unlikely to see that happen with all the attention on Trump and the pandemic. That dynamic puts Democratic voters in a difficult position. To me, voting is an instrumental act, not an end in itself with moral value attached to it -- it’s a means to an end. And I think it’s ethically and intellectually consistent for a person to say that A) They believe Tara Reade and B) They’re voting for Biden in order to oust Trump. Indeed, that’s the calculation that Reade’s friend is making. "I personally am a Democrat, a very strong Democrat," she told McHugh. "And I'm for Biden, regardless. But still I have to come out and say this."

Rebecca Traister has a new piece up that identifies one last cruelty of this saga, linked to his pledge to name a woman to be his running mate: 

[P]art of what’s sickeningly clear is that if Biden remains the Democratic nominee, whichever woman gets the nod to be his running mate will wind up drinking from a poisoned chalice. Because the promise to choose a woman ensures that whoever she is, she will be forced to answer — over and over again — for Biden’s treatment of other women, including the serious allegations of assault leveled by Tara Reade....

What a grievous mess. Biden’s critics on the left should be hoping for the selection of a powerful progressive to run alongside him, and perhaps succeed him, whenever that might be. But any politician who might fulfill those requirements — whether your fantasies run toward Warren or Abrams or Barbara Lee or Ayanna Pressley (AOC is too young) — will also, tautologically, be a politician who has taken an aggressive stand against sexual harassment and assault. So on the one hand, these are women who left-leaning feminists should hope Biden picks. They are women who themselves might for extremely good ideological reasons want to lead the country and see Biden’s vice-presidency as an opportunity to make his administration, and thus the country, better. Some, especially Abrams, have been very vocal about their desire for this job, which is itself a radical approach to voicing ambition.

Yet in putting themselves forward as subsidiaries to Biden, in accepting an invitation that he might extend, or even in voicing their support for his campaign, these women wind up imperiling themselves by getting tied to him and the mess of his historical shortcomings, often on exactly the issues that have driven them into politics.