John Walters is a VTDigger political columnist.
It’s a tough spot for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., as it is for every prominent Democratic or progressive politician. Former Vice President Joe Biden has the presidential nomination wrapped up, everyone is falling in line behind him — and he has been accused of sexual misconduct by Tara Reade, who was an aide in Biden’s Senate office in 1993.
In a podcast released on March 25, Reade said that Biden sexually assaulted her once, and touched her inappropriately on other occasions, during her time as his aide. The New York Times conducted an investigation that was intensive but inconclusive, as were probes by other media organizations.
And that’s where we are — in that familiar, dispiriting “she said, he said” situation with a little-known woman levying charges against a prominent man.
Sanders seems reluctant to engage the question. When asked for a statement, his presidential campaign referred me to an April 16 appearance on “CBS This Morning.” That’s three weeks ago.
Interviewer Tony Dokoupil noted that U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a close Sanders ally, had said Reade’s allegations were legitimate and relevant to Biden’s candidacy, and asked Sanders if he agreed.
“I think it’s relevant to talk about anything,” Sanders replied. “I think any woman who feels that she was assaulted has every right in the world to stand up and make her claims.”
Dokoupil: “Should that weigh significantly in the minds of –”
Sanders interjected, “I think she has the right to make her claims and get a public hearing, and the public will make its own conclusions about it. I just don’t know enough about it to comment further.”
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That was all. And if Sanders has further educated himself since then, he has chosen to remain silent about it. Nor has he withdrawn his endorsement of Biden.
Many prominent Democratic women have endorsed Biden despite the Reade allegations, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand as well as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Stacey Abrams, the Georgia Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee in 2018. All have said they believe Biden’s denial of the accusation.
Some Bernie backers are publicly calling for Biden’s removal from the process. Reade’s allegation was first aired on a podcast hosted by Sanders backer Katie Halper. Briahna Joy Gray, former press secretary to the Sanders campaign, has called for Biden’s removal. The #vtpoli Twitterverse is full of Sanderistas slamming Biden and suggesting that Sanders, as the second-place finisher, should be installed as the Democratic nominee.
Talk about denial of the democratic process. Like him or not, Biden won the nomination fair and square — by winning a vast majority of the vote.
The Reade allegation is troubling. One can fervently hope for a clear and convincing resolution. But otherwise, it is a single accusation in Biden’s decades-long career in the public spotlight. It’s not at all comparable to President Trump’s consistent history of objectifying women and treating them like disposable tissues.
That’s probably why Sanders is still leaning on a statement that’s three weeks old and defers judgment on Reade. Neither Sanders nor his fellow former candidates — nor the Democratic Party — want to risk overturning the process at this point. Any conclusion other than a Biden nomination would threaten to sow chaos in the ranks and boost Trump’s candidacy. It would take more than a single unproven allegation to derail Biden.
Is there a measure of moral expediency in this, even for the principled junior senator from Vermont? Sure. Is it unfair to Reade, who might be fabricating her account — or who might be, as is true of countless abused women, finally overcoming a fear of shame or retribution that kept her closeted for decades? Yes. Yes, it is.
But in the words of Finley Peter Dunne’s Mr. Dooley, “Politics ain’t beanbag.” Sanders, for all his principled stances on the issues, is an experienced politician who firmly believes that the worst possible outcome is a Trump reelection, not the elevation of a lifelong Democrat once accused of misconduct. Sanders is an influential participant in this high-stakes game, and he will continue to play his part.
As quietly as he can.
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