Criticism of former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee in the 2020 presidential election, has ramped up in the last week amid accusations that Biden sexually assaulted a former aide, Tara Reade, in the ’90s. And some of the most vocal of Biden’s supporters include women in the political realm, both because they’re disproportionately being asked to speak to Biden’s character—the implication being that standards for sexual assault are set by woman’s prerogative—and because bleak sycophantry is the current default for those in the Biden camp.
As Reade’s story has gained a broader audience, Biden has visibly surrounded himself with Democratic women. He received a predictable endorsement from Hillary Clinton on Tuesday during, of all things, a virtual town hall dedicated to women’s issues. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand—perhaps best known for calling for the resignation of former Senator Al Franken after sexual harassment allegations against him emerged, and paying a hefty political price for doing so—defended Biden against sexual assault allegations. “I stand by Vice President Biden,” she said during a conference call this week. “He’s devoted his life to supporting women and he has vehemently denied this allegation.”
But perhaps none have been more forthright in their support of Biden than former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who has been campaigning openly for the role of VP by voicing her desire to the press. Abrams’s laudable advocacy for policies that support the poor, including her fight against voter suppression, her stance against cash bail and other punitive practices that disproportionately impact the poor, and her advocacy of child education has transformed from a virtual unknown to a beloved politician and fresh face for the future of the Democratic Party. Her latest breathless defense of Biden, however, is far less endearing
On Tuesday evening, Abrams was grilled by CNN’s Don Lemon about her unwavering support for Biden. “CNN has now spoken on the record with her former neighbor who says Reade told her about the allegation within a few years of the alleged incident,” Lemon said. “Biden’s campaign says untrue, never happened. Is this a credible allegation?”
“I believe that women deserve to be heard and I believe that they need to be listened to,” Abrams said. “But I also believe that those allegations have to be investigated by credible sources. The New York Times did a deep investigation, and they found that the accusations were not credible.”
She went on: “I believe Joe Biden. I believe that he is a person who has demonstrated that his love of family, his love of our community, has been made perfectly clear through his work as a congressional leader and as an American leader. I know Joe Biden and I think he’s telling the truth and that this did not happen.”
Though the Times piece did appear to have been unduly influenced by the Biden campaign, it corroborated that Reade shared the story with her brother at the time and didn’t make a definitive conclusion on the veracity of her complaint. Additionally, Abrams has ignored reporting that has appeared since the Times report, including new evidence from CNN and the discovery of an old clip from Larry King Live of Reade’s mother seeking advice for her daughter who experienced “problems” while working with a “prominent senator.”
But Abrams has been gunning for the vice presidency before the Reade allegations went mainstream, and she’s willing to give the Biden campaign the biggest prize she can offer—herself, as tribute. The path she’s taking is treacherous. Black women aren’t afforded second chances, so Abrams may see Biden’s campaign as her best opportunity to reach higher office. But if Reade’s story takes hold it’s likely to taint those who defended Biden; Abrams’ name could be tarnished. As Rebecca Traister noted in her New York Magazine piece regarding this whole debacle, the women acting as prospective sidekicks for Biden will “wind up imperiling themselves by getting tied to him and the mess of his historical shortcomings.”
Thus Abrams finds herself instigating a devils’ bargain: potentially advance her standing by defending Biden and risk blowback or miss her chance for higher office. Careerism must be a stronger motivator than trepidation for Abrams, who has set herself up as a ride or die advocate for Biden.
Initially, Abrams’s candor about her veep ambitions was somewhat refreshing; it has long been seen as unbecoming to actively audition for the role, even though most politicians would surely leap at the opportunity. But her drive is thus far coupled with unwavering skepticism when it comes to questions about Reade’s accusation. On April 20 she told The Daily Beast that, “Vice President Biden has spent over 40 years in public life advocating for women, and nothing in the Times review [of Reade’s allegations] 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.”
The “highest integrity” is a powerful description. Plenty have integrity, but even the most honest and sincere among us would hesitate to boast that they’re someone of the highest integrity. And the notion that Biden is endowed with a noteworthy amount of it—particularly when eight women have come forward about inappropriate touching—is frankly hard to believe.