Several Democratic vice presidential contenders will have to reckon with their past statements about the #MeToo movement in light of a former aide's accusation of sexual assault against presumptive nominee Joe Biden.
Biden has vowed to select a woman as his vice president, and many of the strongest candidates for the position have been outspoken in giving accusers the benefit of the doubt in cases of sexual misconduct. Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, and Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), and Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.) all supported Christine Blasey Ford when she accused then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault in 2018. These Democrats are now dodging questions or remaining silent about former Senate staffer Tara Reade's claim that Biden assaulted her in a congressional hallway in 1993. Biden has denied the charge through a campaign spokesman.
Neither the Biden campaign nor the vice-presidential hopefuls returned requests for comment.
Whitmer, who has spoken publicly about being raped as a college freshman, said at a 2016 Detroit sexual assault summit she wanted to create a system where accusers are "believed, period."
"When we shine a light on it, we change the focus of the discussion and give women faith in a system that's improving," Whitmer said. "With each part of the discussion you're having here this week, we help create a system that tells women if they come forward, they're going to be believed, period."
Whitmer asked her campaign manager, Keenan Pontoni, to resign in 2018 after he faced allegations of "inappropriate behavior" with women at a past job.
"That was not something I ever would tolerate," Whitmer told the Detroit Metro Times, without specifying the nature of the misconduct. "I just knew very clearly that there was no way I wanted to be associated with that."
Whitmer tweeted Sept. 27, 2018, the day Ford testified, that she believed Ford's account.
I believe Dr. Ford
— Governor Gretchen Whitmer (@GovWhitmer) September 27, 2018
Abrams tweeted, "I believe women," the day after Ford testified. While running for Georgia governor, she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution it was important to "give survivors a voice" and know they have "an advocate" in office.
After the courageous and compelling testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford yesterday, it is shameful that Kavanaugh's nomination is being rushed forward.
I believe women, and I believe survivors of violence always deserve to be supported and to have their voices heard. https://t.co/rtT1PQr4Zq
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) September 28, 2018
Harris, Warren, Klobuchar, and Cortez Masto strongly defended Ford and voted against Kavanaugh's confirmation in 2018.
"To all of the women and men out there who have experienced this, we will hear you, we will see you, we will respect you, we will give you dignity," Harris said in a Senate floor speech at the time. "Do not let this system or any aspect of it bully you into silence."
Warren said in a floor speech that people were "tired of being ignored and silenced," adding that those who came forward deserved to be "heard and treated with respect."
Klobuchar told CBS's Face The Nation that Kavanaugh was undergoing a "job interview" rather than a criminal trial, suggesting that those seeking a high office faced more rigorous standards for exoneration than a typical defendant.
Harris, Warren, and Cortez Masto said they believed Ford's story. The Nevada senator said, "I stand with survivors" in a statement. Klobuchar called Ford credible and praised her "graceful and dignified" testimony.
Let us never forget what courage looks like. pic.twitter.com/2bRD8s8sda
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) September 15, 2019
Harris also penned Ford's profile for TIME‘s 100 most influential people list in 2019.
"Through her courage, she forced the country to reckon with an issue that has too often been ignored and kept in the dark," she wrote.
Some of Biden's potential running mates have toned down their supportive rhetoric when asked about Reade's allegation.
Klobuchar told MSNBC viewers on April 16 they should read the "very thorough" New York Times investigation published April 12 that called into question Reade's credibility.
"I think this case has been investigated," Klobuchar said. "I know the vice president as a major leader on domestic abuse. I worked with him on that, and I think that, again, the viewers should read the article."
Whitmer told NPR that women should be able to "tell their stories" when an interviewer brought up the accusation, but stressed the importance of vetting accusations.
"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," Whitmer said. "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."
Harris told the San Francisco Chronicle that Reade "has a right to tell her story," but went on to praise Biden's work for women's equality and rights. Abrams told HuffPost that she believed "women deserve to be heard, and I believe that has happened here," going on to cite the "thorough investigation" by the New York Times.
However, Business Insider reported Monday—15 days after the Times article was published—that a neighbor of Reade's said she had told her about the assault in the mid-1990s.
Warren and Cortez Masto have not publicly commented on the allegations.
Hillary Clinton, who is endorsing Biden for president on Tuesday, said in 2016 that survivors of sexual assault had the "right to be believed." She later scrubbed that language from her presidential campaign website.
Biden has yet to address the accusation directly, nor have reporters asked the former vice president about Reade since she went public in March.
UPDATE: 11:04 P.M.: This article was updated with Abrams's remarks to HuffPost on Tuesday.