Dems in Top Senate Races Duck Queries on Biden Allegations

Dems in Top Senate Races Duck Queries on Biden Allegations
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Dems in Top Senate Races Duck Queries on Biden Allegations
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Sen. Susan Collins, one of the few remaining centrists in Congress, has suffered plenty of slings and arrows for her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in the fall of 2018. Just hours after casting it, the four-term Maine Republican said she knew it would put a target on her back in her 2020 reelection campaign.

That was an understatement. Democrats have vowed to make Collins pay for the vote, and Republicans are equally adamant in supporting her. Tens of millions of dollars in outside money are pouring into the race from both sides, threatening to upend the more restrained, less partisan politics of the state. 

The Women’s March, the group that organized the worldwide protest against President Trump’s inauguration, set the tone shortly after the Kavanaugh vote. The group labeled Collins a “rape apologist” for her pivotal vote in favor of the nominee despite the 36-year-old sexual assault allegations against him.

Allegations of sexual assault against Joe Biden, the Democrats’ presumptive nominee for president, are clouding that argument, and not just for Collins’ likely opponent, Sara Gideon. The “believe all women” battle cry used to assail Kavanaugh and his supporters has placed other Democratic Senate challengers, and incumbents, in the uncomfortable position of defending Biden in an election that will determine not just the occupant of the White House but control of the upper chamber. Republicans’ razor-thin majority could be surrendered with the loss of a single seat should Democrats win the presidency, putting not just Collins in the spotlight but a handful of other imperiled GOP incumbents as well.

Collins and the five other female senators who supported Kavanaugh were dubbed “gender traitors” by a New York Times opinion writer for their votes to confirm him. Collins is now in the fight of her political life, one of most targeted Senate Republicans in the country. Gideon, Maine’s House speaker, has made the confirmation vote a central part of her campaign, saying she was partly motivated to run because of it.

Pointing to Collins’ 43-minute explanation for her vote, in an interview last year Gideon said she couldn’t square the concern Collins expressed for sexual assault survivors with Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony and the senator’s confirmation of the man Ford had accused. “She thought that sexual assault survivors should be believed, and yet Dr. Ford should not in this case,” Gideon said. “That really felt like a betrayal.”

Roy Lenardson, a longtime conservative Republican political consultant in Maine, said Collins has supported every Supreme Court nominee during President Obama’s time in office and now President Trump’s because she believes presidents have the constitutional right to appoint their own judges.

“It’s a big deal to her – it’s a matter of consistency,” Lenardson, who has never worked for Collins, told RealClearPolitics. “Sometimes the left gets mad at her, sometimes the right gets mad at her. Sometimes I disagree with her, but she’s always honest and straightforward.”

As to the outside political money flowing into Maine, Lenardson didn’t mince words. “I’m sorry to tell the people in California, New York and McLean [Va.], but the people in Caribou, Kittery and Rockland are going to decide this election, not them,” he said. “That’s my objection in all of this.”

Before her vote for Kavanaugh, Collins said in that lengthy floor speech that she believed Blasey Ford is a survivor of a sexual assault and found her testimony to be “sincere, painful and compelling.” But without corroboration, she also said the charges failed to meet the legal standard of proof to deny the nominee a seat on the high court.

Gideon dismissed the burden-of-proof legal argument, as did several liberal-leaning groups and members of the media. “Susan Collins Says She Believes Survivors – Just Not Ford,” stated an October 2018 headline in The Atlantic. Last fall, on the anniversary of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Gideon thanked Blasey Ford in a tweet for her “bravery,” and included the hashtag #BelieveWomen.

Over the course of the last month, however, the tables have turned. Democrats now face their own political loyalty test and moral dilemma over whether they believe assault allegations, dating back to the early 1990s, against Biden from a former Senate staffer. Two people have come forward to corroborate that Tara Reade told them about the alleged assault years ago and two others have said she told them about experiencing sexual harassment from Biden while working in his Senate office. Biden has strongly denied the allegations and has called on the secretary of the Senate to work with the National Archives to identify any record of the complaint Reade said she filed in the early 1990s. He has dismissed questions about releasing personal documents from this political career housed at the University of Delaware, saying they don’t contain personnel files.

After first ignoring the accusations for weeks, the New York Times published an in-depth piece examining Reade’s account and on Friday called on the Democratic National Committee to tap an outside independent and apolitical entity to investigate the charges “swiftly and thoroughly.”

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez has brushed off calls to investigate, arguing that “this is like the Hillary emails, because there was nothing there.” He said Biden had already been thoroughly vetted by Barack Obama when tapped as his running mate in 2008. Some women’s groups that took a strong stand on Kavanaugh have backed the call for an investigation of Reade’s charges. The Women’s March joined the Times in calling for a “fair inquiry of the facts” and argued that Biden has a responsibility “to model what it looks like to believe women by allowing for” such an investigation.

“For the process to be fair, it has to be serious, independent, and transparent,” the Women’s March asserted in a Friday piece on medium.com

Reade’s allegations are already impacting the presidential contest, breaking through the near saturation coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. After watching Biden deny Reade’s claims, one in four Democrats want a different nominee, including 40% of those under the age of 45, according to a Morning Consult survey conducted May 2-3.

So far, Senate Democrats are walking a fine line, with many defending Biden even as they’ve said Reade should be heard. Democratic candidates angling to join them have largely remained silent on the issue – including those, like Gideon, who have recently endorsed Biden. RCP asked Democrats in seven closely watched Senate races whether they believe Reade’s allegations are credible and should be investigated. None of the offices responded.

Inquiries were sent to campaign press contacts for Gideon; Cal Cunningham, who is challenging Sen. Tom Tillis of North Carolina; Theresa Greenfield, who is trying to unseat Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa; John Hickenlooper, who is aiming to oust Cory Gardner in Colorado; and Steve Bullock, who is running against  Sen. Steve Daines in Montana.

Top targeted Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, a longtime friend of Biden’s and a former federal prosecutor, took issue with Reade’s credibility. 

“The more that comes out, the more and more it, to me, does not have the indicia of credibility that I would be looking to at all,” Jones told the Huffington Post this week, calling Reade’s account “totally inconsistent” with Biden’s character. 

Compare that to what Jones said in the fall of 2018 after Blasey Ford testified. Jones said he found her story “credible and courageous” and called the nomination process “flawed from the beginning and incomplete in the end.”

“I am concerned about the message our vote will be sending to our sons and daughters, as well as victims of sexual assault,” he tweeted at the time.

Mark Kelly, who is challenging Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, has been the most forthcoming of Democratic Senate candidates about his thoughts on Reade’s allegations. He told a local radio station last week that Reade should have the opportunity to make her case and the allegations should be looked into. Still, he stands by his endorsement of Biden and the issue won’t affect his plans to vote for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee in November.

“These are often very complicated issues and I think it’s really important that the person who is making these allegations has the opportunity to state the case and have it looked into,” he told KTAR News.

Kelly said he and his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, have known Biden for many years and “got a strong sense of his character” after Giffords was shot nearly a decade ago. She resigned her seat in 2012 after suffering a gunshot wound to the head outside a Safeway in Arizona, resulting in a severe brain injury. She has since become an ardent gun control advocate.

“I think [Biden] has the right experience and has the leadership ability, what our country needs right now,” he said. “So I’m gonna vote for him in November.”

Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan also did not respond to the inquiries.

Peters said on the Senate floor that confirming Kavanaugh would “cast a cloud over the decisions of the Supreme Court for years to come.” In a statement, he added, “I believe if confirmed, Judge Kavanaugh will spearhead the continued erosion of rights for women. Even before Dr. Ford’s brave and credible testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I concluded that Judge Kavanaugh was not the right choice for the nation’s highest court.”

Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics' White House/national political correspondent.



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