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Women’s groups are beginning to break their silence on sexual assault allegations against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden after the embattled candidate responded to the claims for the first time on Friday and said the alleged incident “never happened.”
While they largely stayed quiet for weeks, a few groups had started to publicly pressure Biden to speak up in the run-up to Friday’s statements. But the focus wasn’t entirely on Biden, either. Now that the interview is over, at least one of those groups sought to use Biden’s statement to paint a contrast with President Trump’s handling of the multiple sexual misconduct allegations against him.
“We have reached a pivotal moment in our nation when candidates for president are accused of sexual assault,” Tina Tchen, president and CEO of TIME’S UP Now, said in a statement. “Today, Vice President Joe Biden sat down and directly addressed the allegation against him with the seriousness it deserves, something that the current president has never done.”
“No longer can claims like this go ignored. Vice President Joe Biden needed to address Tara Reade’s allegation today,” Tchen, a former aide to former President Barack Obama, said. “We call for complete transparency into this claim and the multiple claims against President Donald Trump. As we go forward, American voters are entitled to a full understanding of all allegations of this nature. Women should be heard, treated respectfully, and have their allegations taken seriously.”
She added, “By no means is the conversation about sexual assault and power in America over.”
“We are glad to see Vice President Biden take a needed first step in addressing this issue head on. We now look to Biden to continue to push this conversation, and our country, forward.
Tchen’s statement came after Biden answered allegations by former staffer Tara Reade that he assaulted her in 1993. The response came in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and in a written statement.
“No, it is not true,” Biden said. “I’m saying unequivocally it never, never happened and it didn’t. It never happened.”
Biden was pressed on his past comments about women coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment and assault, specifically his comments surrounding the confirmation hearing of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Biden said that “believing women means taking women’s claims seriously.” He added that “women have a right to be heard,” but that their claims should be investigated by the press.
“They should start off with the presumption that they’re telling the truth,” Biden said. “Then you have to look at the circumstances and the facts. And the facts in this case do not exist.”
The case puts women’s groups, who are typically sympathetic to Biden’s candidacy but who demanded that similar decades-old accusations against Kavanaugh be believed, in a difficult position.
Alexis McGill Johnson, Acting President of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement Friday that the group is “glad to see Vice President Biden take a needed first step in addressing this issue head on. We now look to Biden to continue to push this conversation, and our country, forward.”
“We cannot let this conversation devolve into the kind of shame and ridicule that too many survivors face,” she said. “That ridicule is what keeps millions silent after they experience sexual violence or assault. That shame is what allows violence to continue.”
Tchen, in an interview with MSNBC, tried to highlight the contrast with Trump, who has also denied the allegations against him.
“It’s the voters in this election that are going to make a decision, and are entitled to full transparency,” Tchen said. “Vice President Biden has called for that transparency, President Trump has not … he has tried to silence survivors who have come forward.”
Groups that have been vocal in the #MeToo movement have been largely quiet about the allegations against Biden. But on Thursday, some of those groups started to increase pressure on Biden to answer allegations.
“Saying we believe survivors doesn’t mean only when it’s politically convenient. This isn’t a fringe issue, it’s one that affects all of us. This crosses political party, race, gender, income level, and sexual orientation,” Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Johnson said in a statement. “Vice President Biden must address this allegation directly. Our country is hungry for leadership on this issue. Now is the time to give it to them.”
The Women’s March tweeted that Biden should “speak to his past, and he needs to do so immediately.”
“No women should carry the burden for his silence,” the group said.
But it will remain to be seen if those groups, as well as groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America and the National Organization for Women, will be satisfied with Biden’s response. Those organizations did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Fox News.
While Biden gave a firm denial of Reade’s accusations, and also called on the National Archive to search for relevant records, he declined to approve a search for Senate records at the University of Delaware, saying that those files would not pertain to personnel issues.
Heather Drevna, vice president of communications for anti-sexual violence group RAINN, also issued a statement Friday pushing for the release of any relevant records: “We appreciate Vice President Biden finally addressing Tara Reade’s allegations. These allegations deserve a rigorous investigation, and we urge Vice President Biden to release any and all records that may be relevant, including those housed at the University of Delaware, in addition to any Senate records housed at the National Archives. We urge him, his campaign, and former staff to cooperate fully and provide complete transparency.”
Former Biden Senate staffer Reade and seven other women had come forward last year to accuse Biden of inappropriate contact. However, the story she told in March was far more graphic, raising the allegation to the level of sexual assault.
Reade told Fox News about numerous instances, particularly in major meetings, where Biden would “put his hands on my shoulders usually from behind, and put his fingers underneath my hair, on my neck.”
During a March interview with podcast host Katie Halper, Reade described the alleged assault in 1993.
“He greeted me, he remembered my name, and then we were alone. It was the strangest thing,” Reade told Halper. “There was no like, exchange really. He just had me up against the wall.”
She continued: “His hands were on me and underneath my clothes, and he went down my skirt and then up inside it and he penetrated me with his fingers and he was kissing me at the same time and he was saying some things to me.”
Her allegations have received some support in the form of a resurfaced “Larry King Live” interview that appears to show Reade’s mother referring to the accusation, albeit in vague terms. Additionally, two more people who knew Reade have come forward to say she told them about the allegation at the time.
Reade has not yet reacted to Biden’s denial.
Fox News’ Brooke Singman and Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.