Whitmer, a sexual assault survivor who tweeted in 2017 that “I’m saying #MeToo in hopes that future generations won’t have to” and a year later tweeted “I believe Dr. Ford”, avoided voicing clear support for Reade’s allegations.
“I think women should be able to tell their stories,” she told NPR earlier this month. “I think that it is important that these allegations are vetted, from the media to beyond. And I think that, you know, it is something that no one takes lightly. But it is also something that is, you know, personal. And so it’s hard to give you greater insight than that, not knowing more about the situation.”
Other prospects on Biden’s shortlist have chosen silence. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who similarly believed Ford, hasn’t spoken out about Reade. Nor has Florida Rep. Val Demings, who in 2018 wore black to Trump’s State of the Union speech to stand in solidarity with harassment and abuse victims. She, too, supported Ford.
“As a law enforcement officer, I saw how hard it is to come forward after a sexual assault. I am so proud of everyone who is sharing their stories today about #WhyIDidntReport. I believe you, and I stand with you,” Demings tweeted in September 2018.
So far, Biden has refused to comment personally on Reade’s allegations, declining media interviews or granting those where he was not asked about Reade’s accusations.
He had a chance to personally address the issue Wednesday night during a Florida virtual fundraiser where an activist wanted him to comment on sexual assault in the military.
“Look, we have to change the culture of abuse in this country,” Biden said, sticking tightly to the issue of assault in the military. One donor on the Zoom meeting told POLITICO he thought Biden was going to talk about Reade because “I thought the question was put on the list with that in mind.”
A Senate Democrat who supports Biden said that the allegations have not affected the vice presidential search and that Biden is not seeking people who can defend him.
“That’s not Joe,” the senator said. “This has been thoroughly, deeply researched by the Washington Post, New York Times, AP. If in several weeks of having several reporters each on it they’ve concluded there’s nothing to suggest there’s a case here? That certainly satisfies me.”
The Biden campaign more than a week ago gave surrogates talking points revolving around deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield’s denials of the charges and a false characterization claiming the New York Times found “this incident did not happen” — a determination the paper never made.
Former Georgia 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams also repeated the campaign’s talking points on CNN Tuesday and gave the clearest statement about where she stands: “I believe Joe Biden.”
For now, the campaign is relying on a formula that has worked since he announced his candidacy: don’t rush, don’t overreact and don’t try to get ahead of a crisis that might be consuming activists and the news media on Twitter but that voters aren’t talking about.
Biden also doesn’t want to appear to demonize Reade because it would hurt the broader cause of supporting women who are accusers, said an adviser to the former vice president. But the campaign expects he’ll eventually discuss the issue publicly.
The reaction by Biden’s campaign and surrogates to the accusations from Reade have disappointed some women’s rights activists and others.
Denise Krepp, a former U.S. Maritime Administration chief counsel who said she was pressured to quit her job in 2012 during the Obama Administration because she called for an independent investigation of sexual assault allegations at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, tweeted Wednesday that she wouldn’t participate in an “Obama Alumni” fundraiser Friday for Biden until he spoke out about Reade. Krepp said the potential running mates for Biden, also need to be more vocal, although she understands that could be complicated.
“They could end up being in the situation I ended up in, where you’re accused of being disloyal. But disloyal to whom?” she said. “Your job is not to be quiet. Your job is to answer these questions.”
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.