Democrats say former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenCourt nixes offshore drilling leases auctioned by Biden administration Laquan McDonald's family pushes for federal charges against officer ahead of early release Biden speaks with Ukrainian president amid Russian threat MORE’s denial in an MSNBC interview Friday of sexual assault allegations brought by a former aide are unlikely to satisfy his critics.
They said it was smart for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee to publicly deny the allegations to put aside any suggestion he was personally ducking the issue, but predicted the controversy will be used by President TrumpDonald TrumpMark Walker to stay in North Carolina Senate race Judge lays out schedule for Eastman to speed up records processing for Jan. 6 panel Michael Avenatti cross-examines Stormy Daniels in his own fraud trial MORE, whose campaign on Friday launched an ad raising the topic.
“The reality is this story is not going to go away,” said one Democratic strategist. “Every subsequent major interview is going to push him on this issue again and again and again.”
Biden, in the interview with “Morning Joe” co-host Mika BrzezinskiMika Emilie BrzezinskiJill Biden: 'We need more women on the Supreme Court' Ex-NBC anchor Kasie Hunt to join CNN Biden nominates Mark Brzezinski to be U.S. ambassador to Poland MORE, said the allegations were “not true.”
“I’m saying unequivocally, it never, never happened,” Biden said.
Brzezinski also repeatedly asked Biden if he would release his Senate papers, currently being held at the University of Delaware, to see if there was any information about a claim from the former staffer, Tara Reade. Biden maintained that those papers do not include personnel files which could pertain to Reade.
Democrats and some media observers have compared demands that Biden release the papers to 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Armageddon elections to come Poll: Trump leads 2024 Republican field with DeSantis in distant second The politics of 'mind control' MORE’s reluctance to release her personal emails as secretary of State.
The email story repeatedly nagged at Clinton, though many Democrats also criticized the media for its focus on the story.
Some on Friday were warning of a similar, politically damaging story for Biden.
“The politics around this are even worse than Hillary's emails and much more intense because they involve 'Me Too,' women's issues and transparency,” one Democratic strategist said, predicting Republicans would seize on the issue.
Philippe Reines, a longtime adviser to Clinton, agreed it’s an issue, but also said the Biden campaign can learn from Clinton’s experience.
“The bad news is, this is email. The good news is, this is email,” Reines said. “Meaning the Biden campaign, Democrats, and the media have the benefit of hindsight to know that Trump, the Right Wing, and Republicans benefit from the continued attack, not the truth. Knowing that, Biden can’t work backwards from a goal of relying on the truth to put this to bed.”
Biden took the right action on Friday, Reines said, to address the issue and “answer the attack quickly, forcefully and concisely.” He argued that Biden had armed supporters “with a bite size answer to satisfy their own questions as well as throw at their Trump-supporting uncle in Michigan.”
“With ‘it never happened’ he gave Democrats the answer they need as a foundation,” he said.
Still, Reines cautioned: “They’re going to remain in this phase while every media outlet and personality wants their shot.”
Grant Reeher, the director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, said the allegations will stick to Biden despite his denial as long as Reade is seen as a credible accuser.
Over the past week, the allegations have received more attention in the media after a woman said in a published report by Business Insider that Reade had raised the allegations with her years ago.
Reeher said the danger for Democrats is that the allegations could “level the playing field” with Trump, who has faced multiple accusations of sexual crimes. Reeher said this was the case even though he acknowledged Trump’s longer documented history with such issues.
“I don’t think the issue is likely to cause someone to vote for Trump instead of Biden,” he said. “The problem is what it does for the level of enthusiasm for Biden among different constituencies, and the turnout for him. It could have a dampening effect there.”
Biden addressed the Reade allegations at a point where a number of polls have shown him with a lead over Trump nationally and in several swing states. Clinton also enjoyed polling leads over Trump, however, so the numbers have not left Democrats feeling terribly confident — particularly in May.
A second Democratic strategist said Biden’s interview on Friday went “good enough all things considered” but also predicted that the campaign will have a problem once Reade begins to make more television appearances. She is scheduled to appear on Fox News on Sunday.
Some Biden allies said not all of the former vice president’s answers were solid in the interview on Friday.
“It wasn't his best,” one ally said.
But others were more optimistic. They say Friday’s interview was something that needed to happen but ultimately doesn’t change the score of the game.
“The interview was Joe Biden being Joe Biden,” said Michael Trujillo. “I think the questions were fairly predictable as were Biden’s answers."
“I think the Biden campaign fully understands the importance of getting this right, but they also know normal Americans aren’t engaged in this race right now since surviving the coronavirus is priority number one,” he said.
Jonathan Easley contributed to this report.