May 7, 2020

‘I’m Sure for American Women, This Is Frustrating’


Frankly, the story is a tough one to report. Memories are hazy. There were no eyewitnesses. We have yet to find documents, including the complaint that Ms. Reade said she filed with a Senate office. (That complaint detailed only harassment — not assault, according to Ms. Reade.) And as Ms. Reade insists the assault occurred, Mr. Biden denies anything happened.

These unsatisfying facts have left a lot of voters — including the many, many of you who have emailed me about this episode — struggling to figure out how to think about Ms. Reade’s allegation and what it means not only for Mr. Biden and his presidential campaign but the whole #MeToo movement.

One of the most interesting conversations that I’ve had over the past few weeks was with Tina Tchen, the chief executive officer of Time’s Up, the advocacy organization founded by powerful women in Hollywood to combat systemic sexual harassment.

Previously, Ms. Tchen worked with Mr. Biden in the Obama White House, where she was an assistant to the president and chief of staff to the first lady. (Ms. Reade has said the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which Ms. Tchen helped found, refused to take up her case; representatives of the fund said they do not assist clients unless they find legal representation.)

I talked to her about Mr. Biden, Ms. Reade and what this moment says about how the country thinks about sexual misconduct. (As usual, our conversation has been edited and condensed.)

Hi, Tina. Thanks so much for talking to me. What did you think about Mr. Biden’s comments last week?

Vice President Biden did what he had to do, which was to take this allegation seriously, to respect Tara Reade’s right to speak out and then call for full transparency. It is the kind of thing we need all presidential candidates to do when these allegations come forth because they’re serious, they need to be addressed, and Americans need to understand the full facts. Obviously, that hasn’t happened with the current president. We need full transparency on any allegations that he has made as well because, ultimately, the American people deserve all information.

It sounds as if you’re drawing a pretty sharp contrast with President Trump here. How would you assess how the president has handled more than a dozen allegations against him?

You can look back at the record of how he has handled them, going back to the 2016 campaign and all throughout his presidency. Instead of asking for facts to come forward, there has been an effort to keep information from coming out. Instead of recognizing and respecting women, he has belittled them or bullied them verbally or attempted to try to keep the facts from coming out. His policies have stripped away some of the protection for sexual harassment victims in the federal government, for example, that the Obama administration put in place. He rolled back protections on our college campuses against campus sexual assault. So there’s a whole pattern of behavior here, lack of transparency, and a lack of advocacy to combat sexual violence that has gone on.

My inbox is full of readers sending me tips to get to the bottom of what really happened — or did not happen — between Mr. Biden and Ms. Reade. Do you think people will get that kind of definitive answer?

A lot of times these cases don’t resolve like that, which is why the full facts have to come out. We’re not in the circumstance where there’s an employer who’s going to make a decision here. The employer is essentially the American people, who are going to make the decision in this election.

How would you guide voters to make a decision on this matter, if they are essentially the jury?

You look at character and policy and leadership. When you’re selecting someone who’s running for any public office, but particularly for president of the United States, there is no one fact or one characteristic necessarily. You have to look at the whole picture. I would assess these candidates on their character, on the policies that they promote and put forward, and the leadership abilities that they have.

American people can only make their judgment if they have all the facts. We need all of the facts on both sides.

We talked a lot about patterns of behavior during our initial reporting about the allegation. I was wondering what you think about that. You worked with Mr. Biden; you were in the White House with him. Did you see a pattern of mistreating women?

One mistake that I think gets made is to somehow treat all these cases as the same. That’s what we’re fighting for, so each survivor should be able to talk about their own experience, have it investigated, have it judged on its own merit without saying: “It was like this case. It was like that case. It was like this case.”

This false equivalency that’s sort of happening, quite frankly, is a weaponization of these instances of allegations when they come forward, is a mistake. As a general matter, are patterns of behavior relevant? Yes, because well, we do know that the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual assault are repeat offenders. That is a symptom of the condition that leads to someone being a sexual perpetrator — it’s about power. It’s about the rush that they get from committing those acts and that happens over and over again. And that’s the vast majority. Not all of them though, right? There are no absolutes here.

You worked with Joe Biden. Does this allegation sound like the Joe Biden you know?

Look, I can speak about my experience with Joe Biden, which I’m happy to do. And I certainly did not see this behavior, but there are — I would not presume again to say that is the only fact that anyone should make a decision on because I can only speak to what I know, which is from a certain period of time in a certain moment of time.

One thing that comes up a lot when we talk about weaponization is this idea that there’s an inherent contradiction in what Mr. Biden has said about Christine Blasey Ford and Ms. Reade. Do you think there’s a contradiction there?

What got lost is the difference in circumstance, which was that Christine Blasey Ford deserved the benefit of the doubt in that her allegations should have been taken seriously. The allegations of the other survivors who had something to say about Brett Kavanaugh deserve to be taken seriously. They all deserve to be investigated, and there was a body that was charged with doing that investigation before they made the decision.

This was one that only the Senate Judiciary Committee had the authority to investigate. And only the U.S. Senate was going to make that lifetime decision on elevating someone to the Supreme Court. What happened instead was the investigation was truncated, her testimony was truncated and controlled in a way that there was not full transparency. There was no reason to rush that nomination through without looking at every piece of evidence that came forward and making sure the American public had access to every piece of that.

That’s the difference. That’s what it means when you say Christine Blasey Ford deserved the benefit of the doubt coming forward as did the other people that came forward with Brett Kavanaugh.

And in this case, you’re calling for the same thing. But there’s no clear body charged with investigating Ms. Reade’s allegation.

That’s exactly it. There’s not an employer. He’s not in the Senate where the ethics committee might do it. So at the end of the day, the employer is essentially the American people, and that’s why we are stuck. I’m sure for American women, this is frustrating. It’s frustrating, it’s painful. I think we also overlook the real pain that so many women have experienced in their own lives. When they hear this, and this becomes weaponized in a political campaign, the personal pain that people go through when they’re now having to make one of the most important decisions all of us can make as citizens, which is to elect our leaders.

Do you wish the vice president’s male colleagues and allies were pushed to engage on this issue more? Most of the questions are being asked of his female surrogates. Is there something frustrating about that dynamic to you?

Let me tell you, Lisa, that is a pattern that has happened again for decades, if not millenniums. It is women. It is women who are always raising these issues. It is women who are fighting the battles to make sure that sexual violence is addressed, that we have systems and justice in place that people have a right to be heard, and actually also women who have been fighting for fairness in the process. For those who’ve been accused to have process, too.

It’s always women doing it, and yes, men need to step up across the board. Not just in the campaign, but men need to do all the hard work here in leading their companies, in developing their workplaces, in supporting their daughters and their wives and their sisters. We do need that, and we need it across the board.

There’s a decent amount of criticism directed at groups like yours, calling them hypocritical for not immediately responding to Ms. Reade’s allegations. How do you respond to those charges?

What we are trying to do is be thoughtful about what is going on. We’re not going to allow ourselves to be used as a movement, or otherwise, by folks in a political context. This is a long-term fight. We are going up against literally thousands of years of social norms, about the view of women, and about the view of people who have suffered sexual assault and our views of them. And that’s a long-term fight that we have on our minds, and that’s what we’ll stayed focused on.

We want to hear from our readers. Have a question? We’ll try to answer it. Have a comment? We’re all ears. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

Zack Kahn, Sarah Bainton Kahn and Eli Kahn are spending their quarantine with The New York Times in Washington.

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