Senate Democratic hopefuls aren't abandoning Joe Biden amid the Tara Reade allegations. But Republicans are aiming to seize on that loyalty to bring up another old fight: Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation.
Democrats who will be sharing the ballot with former Vice President Joe Biden this fall said Tara Reade’s sexual assault accusation against the presumptive Democratic nominee should be thoroughly and carefully vetted, and they are open to hearing her share her story. They also reiterated their support for Biden's candidacy.
But Republicans are accusing Democrats of hypocrisy over sexual assault allegations by drawing comparisons with Brett Kavanaugh’s ugly Supreme Court nomination hearings. Republican officials in key battleground states like Iowa, Maine and North Carolina are haranguing Democratic candidates for their lack of response and the inconsistent standards they apply to sexual assault allegations.
Democrats argue there are few parallels between the two cases, and they appear to have accepted Biden’s denials that he assaulted Reade when she worked in his Senate office in the early 1990s.
Sara Gideon, the speaker of the Maine House and Democrats' likely challenger to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), voted for Biden in her state’s early March primary and repeated her support this week.
"Sexual assault and sexual harassment are incredibly serious issues and for too long, people have been too afraid to come forward. Every person should be able to come forward and tell their story, and have it thoroughly looked into,” Gideon said in a statement. “I voted for Joe Biden in the primary because I thought he could bring this country together and meet the challenges we face. I still believe that to be true."
Republicans, however, are seizing on what they characterize as a double standard.
“Democrats right now are having to wrestle with this,” said Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “I know Republican senators were getting very probing questions in the midst of the Kavanaugh situation related to this. This has to be highly uncomfortable for Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate.”
There is no disagreement among Democratic candidates about supporting Biden. Gideon’s position was shared by top Democratic challengers in six Senate races who responded to inquiries about the allegations against the former vice president. These races represent critical contests as Democrats seek to win back the Senate, where Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority.
Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, who is challenging Republican Sen. Steve Daines, said women should be given the chance to come forward to “be heard and treated respectfully” and have their allegations taken seriously. He said Biden met that standard.
“It was important that Vice President Biden addressed this, head on and in a serious manner,” Bullock said in a statement. “Americans are looking for transparency from their leaders, and Joe Biden delivered on that."
In an interview with Megyn Kelly this week, Reade said Biden should be “held accountable” and that she wished he would step down from the presidential race. She said she would be willing to testify under oath and submit to cross-examination on her allegations, which Christine Blasey Ford did after she accused Kavanaugh of assault.
“What is so appalling is the double standard,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is up for reelection this year. “I still remember where they thought due process was a joke and didn’t apply to Brett Kavanaugh. Somehow, they think now due process should be applied to Joe Biden.”
But Democrats bristle at the comparison between allegations against Biden and Kavanaugh, arguing that the allegations against the former vice president are completely different.
Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbent and a close Biden ally, said they are like “apples and oranges.”
“It wasn’t just about who you believed, it was about the whole nature of the Kavanaugh hearings, the lack of investigation,” Jones said. “I mean we got a president of the United States who simply said, ‘I didn’t do it,’ and they’re OK with all of that? As we say in the South, that’s kind of the pot calling the kettle black. I don’t think they want to start really opening up allegations of misconduct like that.”
Trump has been accused by more than 20 women of sexual assault or misconduct and boasted of making unwanted sexual advances in the “Access Hollywood” tape that went public shortly before the 2016 election. Some allegations have become public after the election, such as journalist E. Jean Carroll’s accusation that he raped her during the 1990s. Trump has denied those allegations. Republicans stood by Trump after those allegations, and GOP senators up for reelection this year are largely running in lockstep with the president.
“They are the ones who are totally embracing their admitted sexual predator president,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii.). “So for them to use that as some sort of a weapon against Democrats, and they themselves won’t even look to their own behavior is more than hypocritical.”
Republicans also confirmed Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018, saying they believed his denials after hearing testimony from Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford, who accused him of assaulting her decades before, when they were teenagers.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation battle was a major issue in the 2018 midterms after every Republican except Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) supported his confirmation, and every Democrat except Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) opposed it.
Kavanaugh also resurfaced in the 2020 campaign, particularly in Democrats’ efforts to defeat Collins, who supported him. Collins did not support Trump in 2016 and has not said whether she supports his reelection.
She said in a statement Friday that "principles like the presumption of innocence, fairness, and due process always bear on my thinking in evaluating such an allegation" and said Reade should be "treated with respect and have a chance to tell her story." The Maine Republican added she respects Biden's public service.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has featured Kavanaugh in campaign ads for his reelection this cycle. McConnell has called it “jaw-dropping hypocrisy” that Democrats who fought Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court have not spoken out against Biden.
Amy McGrath, who is challenging McConnell, initially said she would have supported Kavanaugh when she launched her campaign last year, before backtracking and saying she opposed him.
McGrath said in a statement that allegations of assault should be taken seriously. “We need transparency as they navigate these allegations, and so far, I’ve seen that from Joe Biden,” she said.
Mark Kelly, Democrats’ nominee in Arizona, said in a recent local radio interview the allegations should be looked into, but he stood by his support of Biden. Rachel Petri, a spokeswoman for Cal Cunningham, the Democratic nominee in the North Carolina Senate race against GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, said Cunningham believes women should be heard and accusations taken seriously, which Cunningham believed happened in this case.
Melissa Miller, a spokeswoman for John Hickenlooper, the frontrunner to be the Democratic nominee in the Colorado Senate race, said Hickenlooper believes the accusations should receive an “independent, fair look” and that he still supports Biden.
Theresa Greenfield, national Democrats’ favored candidate in the Iowa Senate primary next month who hopes to take on Joni Ernst, also said Reade’s allegations had been heard and given a fair examination.
“We need to show respect to women who come forward by listening, recognizing the seriousness of the claims and giving them an honest, independent look,” Greenfield said in a statement. “As that has happened, I have not changed my decision to support Joe Biden."