For former Vice President Joe Biden, a virtual town hall focused on women’s issues Tuesday was a chance to try and burnish his credentials with a crucial constituency without veering into uncomfortable territory.
The carefully stage-managed Biden campaign event included an announcement of support from Hillary Clinton and pre-screened questions from female supporters. It enabled Biden to reach out to women with no risk of broaching an increasingly tough subject — the sexual assault allegation leveled by a former aide that circulated for weeks on social media and into the mainstream press, with a forceful push from President Trump’s supporters and aides.
The accusations first surfaced publicly in late March, raised by Tara Reade, 56, a California woman who once served as an entry-level Senate staff assistant in Biden’s Washington office during a brief period in 1993. Reade alleged that Biden aides asked her to hand-deliver a gym bag to him in a senate office building. And when she did, she alleges Biden moved in close, pinned her against a wall, slipped his hand under her skirt and penetrated her with his fingers.
While Biden has not directly responded to the accusation, a senior campaign adviser swiftly and publicly denounced it.
“This absolutely did not happen,” said Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s communications director earlier this month.
Slowly, over the ensuing weeks, the allegation lingered, and with help from conservative pundits, is fast becoming a test for Biden. How he handles it holds the potential to affect the 2020 race — the first presidential contest of the #MeToo era.
Sexual assault and misconduct allegations figured prominently into the 2016 presidential campaign for President Trump as well as the confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. And even as both men vehemently denied allegations leveled against them, the episodes helped crystallize the anger of the #MeToo movement.