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Key Biden endorsers say they are reassured by his denial of sexual assault

Former Vice President and presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks after the Nevada Democratic Caucus at IBEW Local 357 on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Three key Nevada lawmakers who have endorsed presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s bid for president say they are satisfied with his response to an allegation that he sexually assaulted staffer Tara Reade in 1993. 

Two others did not comment when asked or respond to a request for comment. Those are Assemblywomen Selena Torres and Dina Neal. Other lawmakers have responded since first being contacted Wednesday.

Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod and Susie Martinez responded Friday in support of Biden.

“These claims have been thoroughly investigated and made clear to not be verifiable,” Bilbray-Axelrod said in a text. “Joe Biden has been vetted, time and time again, including to be our Vice President. I believe Joe and I know Joe. He has fought for women throughout his career, including by leading the fight to put forth unprecedented federal measures in place to protect victims of domestic violence.”

Martinez echoed Bilbray-Axelrod’s comments, including that Biden was thoroughly evaluated to be vice president.

“I was an early supporter of Vice President Biden because I’ve seen his heart for public service and ability to deliver on issues close to me and so many women, including gun violence, education, and of course the Violence Against Women Act,” Martinez said. “Like Vice President Biden, I also am a strong supporter of the Me Too movement and giving women the space to speak up. I also believe in finding the truth. In this case, these claims have been vetted and disproven. I trust Joe Biden and I believe Joe Biden”

Rep. Steven Horsford’s campaign responded Thursday after his congressional office had directed a reporter there a day earlier.

When asked how Biden handled the allegation and related questions, Horsford said “When they decide to hold Donald Trump accountable for the many allegations against him, then let me know.” 

Trump has been accused of sexual assault by at least 17 women and he has denied any wrong doing.  

Lt Gov. Kate Marshall also responded Thursday. She said she was pleased with Biden’s response, heartened that Biden did not attack Reade personally or her motives and satisfied that the allegation has been investigated, including during the vetting to join President Barack Obama’s ticket in 2008.

“I think now everyone has been heard,” Marshall said in an interview. “Ms. Reade has said here’s what she’s alleging happened, the vice president has denied those allegations, now it’s time to let the voters make their choices on that. It’s up to them.”

“I don’t know what more investigation can be done,” Marshall said adding “it’s very important that when a woman raises an allegation of sexual harassment that she be taken seriously, that she be allowed to have a voice and to say what her allegations are and for those to be investigated.”

Rep. Dina Titus, who was the first member of the delegation to endorse the former vice president back in November, led the way in defending Biden on Wednesday. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who endorsed Biden last week, and State Sen. Yvanna Cancela also said Biden has been transparent and that they stand by their endorsements. Cancela, the former political director of the Culinary Workers Union, made her endorsement in April 2019. 

“I’m a big supporter of the Me Too movement,” Titus said in a statement provided by her office that echoed the Biden response she gave earlier Wednesday on MSNBC.

“Women should be respected when they come forward to share their stories and their claims should be independently vetted,” Titus continued. “That is exactly what has happened in this case.”

Cortez Masto, a former attorney general, said, in a statement provided by her office, that she has spent her legal career advocating for an environment in which victims of sexual assault feel safe to come forward, knowing that the system is a fair system and provides for both accountability and exoneration.

“We do not have that system, or culture yet,” she said. “We all need to stand up and make change both in government and the private sector. That’s where I will continue to focus. In this case, Vice President Biden has been transparent and the American public will listen and make their judgment.”

Cancela said Biden has championed women’s rights by helping pass legislation like the Violence Against Women Act, and he pushed for the secretary of the Senate to release any relevant material related to the allegation.

“Joe Biden has denied these allegations and took the unprecedented step in requesting the secretary of Senate search for the alleged complaint and make it public,” Cancela said in an emailed statement. “I know Joe Biden and trust Joe Biden. This is the same person that fought tooth and nail to make the Violence Against Women Act a reality. Joe Biden is demonstrating leadership and handling this the appropriate way.”

Their comments come after Biden last Friday unequivocally denied the allegation that he assaulted Reade 27 years ago. 

Even before Biden first publicly discussed the allegation, his campaign had circulated talking points to Democrats stressing that the charge had been vetted and was false.

Reade, who worked for Biden between December 1992 and August 1993, said she was also sexually harassed by the then-Senator and raised that matter with three senior Biden staffers, but they have denied any such complaint was made. Reade was also one of the eight women who accused Biden in 2019 of making them feel uncomfortable. 

On Thursday, a court document in connection with Reade’s divorce in 1996, obtained by The San Luis Obispo Tribune, included testimony from her ex-husband that she told him she sexually harassed while working for Biden. The document does not mention the assault or that Biden harassed her.

She also told the AP that she was once asked to serve drinks at an event because Biden liked her legs and thought she was pretty. Reade refused and her duties in the office were cut back, she said, which spurred her to file a complaint with the Senate personnel office. She said she doesn’t remember the exact office and doesn’t have a copy of the complaint, though she has said it does not mention the word harassment or talk about the assault. “I used ‘uncomfortable.’ And I remember ‘retaliation,'” she said. She also said she told her mother, brother and friends about problems when working for Biden. One friend corroborated her account of the assault. 

Biden said that no such complaint exists, but he sent a letter Friday to Secretary of the Senate Julie Adams, urging her to permit the National Archives to release any relevant documents. But Adams responded that Senate rules and privacy laws do not give her the authority to release documents from the archive or anyplace else. The archives have also said that any such records would be under Senate control.

Reade has called on Biden to request a search of the trove of documents that the vice president has donated to the University of Delaware. But Biden has said that those documents do not include “personnel files.” He raised concerns about things being used for political fodder against him.

“The idea that they would all be made public while I was running for office can be taken out of context,” Biden said. 

Titus also praised Biden’s effort to ferret out Senate documents and dismissed the need to open the trove of documents that Biden donated to the University of Delaware. 

“Joe asked the secretary of the Senate to see if she could find any record of this allegation if it exists,” Titus said. “In their correspondence, the secretary of the Senate confirmed that the privacy protections in place at the time would have prevented Senate offices from being made aware of such complaints. Therefore, no such record exists at the University of Delaware. If such a complaint was made, it would be in the National Archives under control of the Senate.”

Rep. Susie Lee and Sen. Jacky Rosen, while they have not endorsed Biden, said he has handled the allegation in a satisfactory manner.

“All women need to have the space and the availability to speak and be heard, and allegations need to be vetted,” Lee said in an interview. “And the vice president made it clear, unequivocally. It’s been out, it’s been vetted, and I believe the vice president.”

Lee said she’s considering endorsing Biden.

“I’ve taken a stand, which I have generally taken, to stay out of a primary and I am looking at that,” she said.

Rosen, in a statement provided by her office, stressed that she believes victims should feel safe coming  forward and having their allegations taken seriously and that she works to foster that atmosphere. 

“Vice President Biden has addressed this situation directly, unequivocally denied any wrongdoing, and asked for records to be released,” Rosen said. “After weighing the information and listening carefully to his response, I believe the vice president and anticipate the American people will believe him as well.”

This story was updated on May 11, 2020, to include a comment from Assemblywoman Susie Martinez. This story was updated on May 8, 2020, at 12:58 p.m. to include a comment from Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod. This story was updated on May 7, 2020, at 9:33 p.m. to indicate that some of the lawmakers contacted did not respond to requests for comment. This story was updated on May 7, 2020, at 5:52 p.m. to include comments from Rep. Steven Horsford. This story was updated May 7, 2020, at 12:38 p.m. to include comments from Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall and to note that State Sen. Yvanna Cancela endorsed Vice President Joe Biden in April.

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