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Sexual Assault Claim Against Biden Lands Collins Challenger Gideon in the Hot Seat

by | May 13, 2020

A worker looks on during a Supper With Sara campaign event earlier this year in Skowhegan. photo/Nathan Bernard 

Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon says she’s running against Susan Collins in part because the Republican Senator voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court despite a sexual-assault allegation made against him. But Gideon has been mum about Tara Reade’s claim that Joe Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993, when Reade worked as an aide in his Senate office.  

Now Republicans are trying to use Gideon’s “silence” on Reade’s allegation to blunt what had been one of the Democratic frontrunner’s sharpest attacks against Collins. Meanwhile, the two more progressive candidates vying with Gideon for their party’s nomination are warning that Democratic leaders’ “hypocrisy” on this issue will cost the party votes and damage its credibility.

Gideon endorsed Biden’s bid for the White House on March 3 and doubled down on her support for the former Vice President last week as Reade’s story snowballed into a major political issue. In response to Mainer’s inquiry about Gideon’s position on Reade’s allegations, her team pointed to a statement the candidate released last week. 

“Sexual assault and sexual harassment are incredibly serious issues and for too long, people have been too afraid to come forward,” the statement read. “Every person should be able to come forward and tell their story, and have it thoroughly looked into.”

The statement does not mention Reade by name, much less address the question of whether she believes Reade is a survivor of sexual assault — a question Collins affirmed in the case of Kavanagh’s accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, calling her testimony under oath “sincere, painful and compelling.” Multiple people have confirmed that Reade told them about the alleged assault years ago. Biden has flatly denied the allegation. 

The New York Times, which recently conducted its own investigation, found former interns who corroborated one of Reade’s claims — that she was abruptly removed from her position supervising interns in the spring of 1993, when the assault is alleged to have occurred — but did not find additional evidence to back up Reade’s assertions. The Times has since joined organizers of the Women’s March and others in calling for the Democratic Party to launch an independent investigation into Reade’s claims, but Democratic Party chairman Tom Perez has refused, likening Reade’s allegations to Republicans’ suspicions about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails during the 2016 presidential race.            

Criminal defense attorney Bre Kidman, one of Gideon’s Democratic rivals to challenge Collins in November, said they’ve been “devastated to watch the Democratic Party repeat the same talking points” against Reade that Republicans used to undermine Dr. Ford’s credibility. 

Kidman, a non-binary candidate who’s made LGBTQ advocacy a big part of their campaign, told Mainer, “For those who say we have to put [Reade’s allegations] aside to beat Trump, let me be clear: Trump isn’t missing a beat calling us on our hypocrisy and doubling down on it isn’t helping. Prominent Democrats’ choice to dismiss these allegations as ‘false’ or ‘Russian interference’ is every bit as gaslighting and dangerous as the Kavanaugh confirmation was — and, like Kavanaugh, the effects are significantly wider reaching than the question of whether this man gets this job.”

The other Democrat on the ballot in the party’s July 14 primary is Betsy Sweet, a former executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby whose résumé also includes work as a sexual-harassment prevention trainer and advocate for victims of sexual assault.  

“To grant Reade’s claim any less respect than we granted Ford’s is to abandon our credibility as a party, our integrity as leaders, and our responsibility as human beings to listen to all survivors of sexual violence,” Sweet told Mainer. “We must take every claim seriously, even if it is politically inconvenient.”

The Maine GOP wasted no time attacking Gideon on this issue. Last week, they sent out a press release headlined, “Full of Sh!t Sara Still Silent on Biden Allegations.” It states: “Joe Biden was accused of sexual assault and Gideon has yet to say a single word about Tara Reade — not even to offer Reade praise for coming forward just as she did for Christine Blasey Ford.”

According to Brian Schwartz of CNBC, numerous national political groups aligned with the GOP are preparing to spend big money to spread the message that Gideon’s position on Reade is hypocritical.  

Marie Follayttar is co-founder and executive director of Mainers for Accountable Leadership, a political action committee that’s helped raise over $4 million to defeat Collins specifically because she voted to confirm Kavanaugh. Those funds will be used to support Collins’ Democratic challenger regardless of the candidate’s position on Reade’s claims or sexual assault in general.   

Follayttar skirted the current controversy when asked for comment by Mainer, and instead made a broader point. “It’s imperative that we do the bigger work to end rape culture and address the power imbalance inherent in a system where men are making most of the decisions while women and people of color are harmed by the laws of men,” Follayttar said. “We do not have a system for survivors and a system of accountability for this moment and we cannot let the absence of a system continue.” 

Unlike Gideon, neither Kidman nor Sweet has endorsed Biden’s bid for the presidency. “The bottom line is that no one is entitled to an ascension to greater power,” Kidman said. “Kavanaugh wasn’t, and Joe Biden isn’t, either.”

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