Rep. Ocasio-Cortez Says Biden Sexual Assault Allegation 'Not Clear-Cut'

May 7, 2020
Originally published on May 7, 2020 10:31 am

Editor's note: This story contains graphic descriptions of an alleged sexual assault.

Updated at 10:30 a.m. ET

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., says an accusation of sexual assault against former Vice President Joe Biden is "not clear-cut," but that it remains of great importance to listen to survivors and allow for proper due process in such cases.

Speaking to NPR's Morning Edition, Ocasio-Cortez said, "There have been investigative journalists that have corroborated certain aspects of her account — that is undeniable — [and] have raised questions about other aspects of her account." She is concerned, though, that an early rush to take sides could signal hypocrisy from her party and potentially alienate victims of sexual violence.

"It certainly seems as though something has happened. I'm not sure," she said, later adding, "Frankly, this is a messy moment, and I think we need to acknowledge that — that it is not clear-cut."

Tara Reade, a former Senate staffer, says that Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993 by pinning her against a wall and penetrating her vagina with his fingers. She also said other behavior, like touching her shoulders, made her feel uncomfortable. Reade could not remember the exact location or date of the alleged assault but said it happened when a supervisor asked her to deliver a duffel bag to Biden on Capitol Hill.

Biden flatly denies Reade's account.

Biden initially did not respond directly to Reade's claims but told MSNBC last week: "I'm saying unequivocally, it never, never happened."

A friend of Reade's, who spoke to NPR, said Reade told her of the same alleged assault at the time. Reade's brother recalled his sister telling him some of the account. Reade's former neighbor told NPR she detailed the same accusation to her two or three years after it allegedly occurred. Reade says she complained of harassment, but not assault, to three then-Biden aides. All three told NPR that those conversations never happened.

Ocasio-Cortez says that the public response has wrongly focused on the political implications of the accusation.

"Instead of focusing on her account, instead of focusing on her story as a survivor, people are fast forwarding to the political implications," she said. " 'Do you want Trump to win? Will you be voting for Joe Biden?' And that denies justice in this situation."

Asked what that justice should look like, Ocasio-Cortez said she'd look to what the alleged victim is asking for. In Reade's case, she says, "if anything, it sounds like she simply wants to be heard. ... It seems as though she does not feel she's been heard yet."

Last month, Reade filed a police report with the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department because she was worried about her safety after receiving "online harassment."

Ocasio-Cortez says she will vote for Biden for president but has so far declined to endorse him. An endorsement, she says, "has to do with an understanding of what we are fighting for together."

"I think an endorsement means we have come to a place where we have developed a vision together not just for winning [in November], but for getting our country to a better place."

Biden will likely face President Trump in the Nov. 3 election as the Democratic Party's nominee.

Trump has faced a number of sexual assault accusations from multiple women, which he has denied.

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So what more can Congress do to rescue the U.S. economy? This is a question lawmakers are debating this week. And one Democratic member of Congress spoke with our co-host, Steve Inskeep.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Like most of us, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez does not get out quite as much as she did. The New York lawmaker is at home in the Bronx, though she says she does get out to walk her district and greet people on the streets from a proper distance. She's been critical of the nearly $3 trillion in relief approved by Congress so far.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think it's failed to do a lot. And I think one of the great tragedies is that we have released so much money, and it has so largely gone to benefit the wealthy and corporations and the very rich.

INSKEEP: The self-described democratic socialist is far from the most powerful House Democrat but constantly draws attention. She is hoping the next relief measure offers extra mortgage help for homeowners, a break for renters and additional aid for state governments. She knows some Republicans from other parts of the country are skeptical.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: What I am afraid of - as the representative for the most heavily COVID-impacted district in America, what I am afraid of is that my colleagues may not understand the depth of this crisis in terms of what it represents to the entire country. And we're talking about municipalities that could be in as severe as an issue where they will be laying off first responders and uniformed officials. And this is extremely dangerous.

INSKEEP: Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, has resisted more aid for states, saying that he doesn't want to be used to solve their pension problems, for example, other problems that they have. And he's been accused of being partisan there, but I was doing a little research on this and came across a newspaper headline from New York state, from the Rochester, N.Y., newspaper. This is a headline from November 2019 - "New York Faces Its Largest Budget Crisis In A Decade" because of Medicaid costs, not because of the pandemic. Is it true that there are some states that just haven't handled their budgets very well and are in trouble for that reason?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, you know, with 50 states in the country, I'm sure that there will be different levels of response. But...

INSKEEP: Well, how about yours?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: You know, I think when we talk about Medicaid, absolutely there are problems because our health care system is structured for bankruptcy. It's structured for everyday people to go broke. And that gets reflected in revenues, and that gets reflected in state and city levels. I have been long been saying that what coronavirus has done has not necessarily been presenting new problems. It has been pouring gasoline on existing inequities and issues in the United States, and now everything is on fire all at once.

INSKEEP: I think I hear you acknowledging that New York State did have underlying budget problems way before the pandemic. But you're saying it's not your governor, Andrew Cuomo's, fault or your state government's fault. It's, essentially, society's fault, the way that society is structured. Is that what you're saying?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think everyone should take responsibility. We are too afraid to tax the rich in order to fund public systems, but that is a problem that exists on municipal, state and federal levels.

INSKEEP: In considering another relief bill, does the deficit matter, the size of the deficit?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I do think it's funny because now that we've gotten multiple bites at this apple and Republicans have gotten everything they want in bailouts for their friends, in getting access to the wealthy, getting enough PPE just to bail out their own states but not all states, now they're going to crow about the deficit. And so really when we talk about what we're going to respond to, if - on one hand, the answer to your question is, no. The deficit should not be the primary concern right now as people are dying and we're looking down the barrel of one 9/11 per day in June in terms of Americans that are dying. But if you are concerned about the debt, maybe we could consider rolling back that $2 trillion corrupt tax cut that Republicans had advanced in 2017 and begin to address some of our deeper problems and issues.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about the Democratic Party. What does it say about your priorities and your issues that the presumed Democratic nominee is not going to be Bernie Sanders, who you endorsed, but Joe Biden?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: It says less about policy priorities rather in terms of how Americans value them because it's been clear and consistent throughout this entire process that people's No. 1 priority is defeating Trump. And would they prefer other policies, would they prefer a different policy platform than Biden? Yes. You know, we've seen that bear out in exit polling on the issues.

INSKEEP: Biden, as you know, has been accused by Tara Reade, a former aide, of sexual assault back in 1993. He has denied this. We at NPR have done in-depth examinations of the evidence there. How does that case affect your thinking when deciding how strongly to support Biden, if at all, this fall?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think there is an impact here for survivors, and I think it's very important to speak about what this moment means for survivors across the country. I think a lot are watching how our leadership and our culture and our media respond to this. And I don't think that the response overall has been sufficient. It's very difficult because this is in a hyper-politicized zone, right? Instead of focusing on her account, instead of focusing on her story as a survivor, people are fast-forwarding to the political implications. Do you want Trump to win? Will you be voting for Joe Biden? And that denies justice in this situation.

INSKEEP: What is due process in this case - you want a police investigation? What is it you want exactly?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, you know, I think a lot of what we can look for is look at the aims that the survivor is asking for. And while a lot of folks, again, are trying to jump to the political implications, she has never explicitly said don't support Joe Biden. She hasn't explicitly said anything in terms of a political remedy that she wants. If anything, it sounds like she simply wants to be heard.

INSKEEP: If I'm not mistaken, you have said you will be voting for Joe Biden but that you have not yet endorsed Joe Biden. What's the difference?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think, to me, an endorsement means, you know, we have come to a place where we've developed a vision together, not just in November but how we're going to govern after. I don't say that to score a point or to say that I must be courted. But I say that because I want to reflect the views of how young people, how Latinos are feeling right now about this moment. And I want us to be clear-eyed about the coalition building that needs to happen between now and November in order to win.

INSKEEP: Representative Ocasio-Cortez, it's always a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you so much.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Of course. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.