As former Vice President Joe Biden solidifies as the Democratic presidential frontrunner, a sexual assault allegation from a former employee leaves some Penn political groups seeking answers.
Last week, former Senate staffer Tara Reade alleged that Joe Biden sexually assaulted her when she worked in his senate office in 1993. Last year, Reade told the Union that Biden touched her inappropriately on her neck and shoulders, but recently said a sexual assault also occurred. In the past, multiple women have made complaints against the former Penn presidential practice professor for touching them inappropriately or making them uncomfortable, though Reade’s is the first allegation of sexual misconduct.
Biden’s campaign has denied Reade’s sexual assault allegation. In one of two released statements, the campaign's Communications Director Kate Bedingfield wrote, "Women have a right to tell their story, and reporters have an obligation to rigorously vet those claims. We encourage them to do so, because these accusations are false."
Marianne Baker, Biden’s executive assistant from 1982 to 2000, called Reade’s allegation "in complete contradiction" to Biden’s character in the other statement.
In response to other complaints about inappropriate contact with women, Biden released a statement last year where he committed to being more mindful about respecting personal space as society's "social norms" change.
On-campus political groups like Penn Democrats and Penn for Bernie are calling on Biden's campaign to investigate and address Reade's allegation.
Penn Dems, who recently endorsed Biden for president, still support him despite the allegation.
In a written statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn Dems executive board expressed that they take allegations of sexual assault "extremely seriously," and reference their status as a group certified by Penn Violence Prevention's Anti-Violence Engagement Network.
“Tara Reade deserves to be heard and journalistic organizations have an obligation to investigate her allegations," the statement read. "VP Biden should also address them further immediately.”
Penn's specific Biden advocacy group, Penn for Biden, declined to comment on the allegations to the DP.
Co-director of Penn for Bernie and College sophomore Jack Cahill said sexual assault allegations should always be treated seriously, regardless of political party.
“If you believe in women, and if you want to hold people accountable, you have to be morally and ideologically consistent, regardless of whether it’s somebody you know, or whether they have a D or an R next to their name,” Cahill said. ‘“If Bernie Sanders had a credible allegation against him, I would be very vocal, Penn for Bernie would be very vocal, and calling for an investigation about this.”
According to Cahill, Penn for Bernie is split on whether to vote for Biden if he receives the Democratic nomination. Cahill himself said he currently has no plans to vote for Biden. In addition to Cahill's disagreements on Biden's healthcare platform, Reade's allegation made him less willing to vote for Biden.
"A couple weeks ago, I was more set on voting for Biden if he became the nominee, but when these allegations came out and he said he would veto single-payer medicare for all, that's when it really turned around for me," he said.
Emily Liu, a College junior and Penn for Bernie’s Outreach Director, criticized the lack of coverage on Reade’s allegation in major media outlets. At the time of publication, Reade’s allegation against Biden has not been covered by The New York Times, The Washington Post, or CNN.
“I haven’t seen basically any major media outlets cover this, the way there was wall-to-wall coverage for Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump, basically anyone possible,” Liu said. “The standard should be applied evenly across the board, especially from organizations like CNN or Time’s Up who have a responsibility to hold the powerful accountable.”
Liu is undecided about whether she will vote for Biden in November if he becomes the nominee.
"I hate Trump, but I also know Biden won't fight for anything I believe in," she said, and explained that Biden's platform does not fully support cancelling student debt and a single-payer healthcare plan.
Liu does not believe Biden’s campaign will be affected in the long run by Reade's allegation.
“He does a great job of avoiding [the allegation], and the media isn’t particularly trying to go after him,” Liu said. “When it comes to how much people actually care about sexual assault, it is really overshadowed by their own political interests.”
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