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Joe Biden’s Texas backers in Congress defend White House hopeful amid sexual assault allegation

The former vice president’s endorsers in Texas’ congressional delegation say they believe his unequivocal denials of the allegation by former staffer Tara Reade.

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden’s supporters in Texas’ congressional delegation are defending the Democratic presidential nominee over a sexual assault allegation recently made public by one of his former aides.

Biden has repeatedly and unequivocally denied that he assaulted Tara Reade when she worked in his Senate office in the early 1990s.

His endorsers in the Texas delegation are pointing to that response, along with several extensive media investigations into the allegation, to reiterate their strong support for the Democratic Party’s choice to take on President Donald Trump in the November election.

Many of those Texans are also citing their interaction with Biden over the years.

“I know Vice President Biden’s character personally — for 30 years as a senator and eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Dallas Democrat who is the dean of the Texas congressional delegation. “I appreciate how he has handled this.”

She continued: “He took the allegation seriously, respected Tara Reade’s right to speak out and then called for full transparency.”

The allegation has jolted the 2020 presidential race, particularly in the wake of the #MeToo movement that helped in recent years to bring many prominent men in politics, media and sports to account over their treatment of women.

Republicans have sought to highlight the claim, even as Trump once bragged about sexual assault — an episode he downplayed as “locker room talk” — and previously faced sexual misconduct allegations from multiple women. He denies the allegations.

Many in the GOP have zeroed in on potentially vulnerable Biden backers, such as freshmen Democratic lawmakers like Dallas Rep. Colin Allred and Houston Rep. Lizzie Fletcher.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm, recently accused the two Texans of having “stayed silent” about the Biden allegation and asked if their “previous support for victims [was] predicated on those victims not accusing Democrats.”

Allred, in response to questions The Dallas Morning News sent to every Biden endorser in the Texas delegation, offered the former vice president his “strong support.”

“Allegations like these always need to be taken seriously,” said Allred, who in 2018 unseated a longtime GOP lawmaker. “Vice President Biden has vehemently denied the claims and encouraged the media to look into them, and I agree with that call to action.”

Fletcher didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Reade’s allegation began to get wider notice in early April, particularly after The New York Times and other news outlets published lengthy examinations into the assertions.

The former aide, who worked in Biden’s Senate office for less than a year, was among women who last year said Biden made them uncomfortable by touching their neck or shoulders. But at that time, she didn’t mention any alleged sexual assault.

Her account changed earlier this year, when she said that Biden had pinned her against a wall in a Senate hallway and reached up her skirt.

“I don’t really care if people believe it or not, I’ve had to live with it,” Reade said in a recent interview with Megyn Kelly. “And it’s just one of those things that’s impacted and shattered my life and changed everything about my life.”

Some of Reade’s family members and friends have publicly corroborated her account. Dozens of other Biden staffers — from Reade’s era and beyond — have disputed the allegation or said that they do not recall anything like that happening during their time working for Biden.

Biden addressed the allegation in early May, saying that “unequivocally it never, never happened.” He said on MSNBC in mid-May that he didn’t even remember Reade from her time on his staff and again reiterated that nothing like the alleged attack “ever happened.”

He also said that “women have a right to be heard, and the press should rigorously investigate claims they make.” But "ultimately the truth matters,” he said.

His backers in Texas’ congressional delegation echoed that sentiment.

“He made it clear that women should be able to come forward and be heard and not silenced but that all allegations should be subject to scrutiny — which is exactly what has happened in this case,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.

Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said Biden has “nothing to hide.”

“All women should be heard when they make an allegation of sexual misconduct and should be treated with dignity and respect,” said Garcia, who’s been floated as a potential running mate. “In this case, it is important that we look at all the facts.”

Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, was direct.

"I believe Vice President Biden,” said Escobar, who’s also been mentioned as a potential veep.

Republicans have accused Democrats of hypocrisy in their treatment of Biden. They’ve sought to compare him to now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination faced fierce Democratic opposition after he was accused of sexual assault.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican up for re-election, recently told Politico that “what is so appalling is the double standard.”

“I still remember where they thought due process was a joke and didn’t apply to Brett Kavanaugh,” he said. “Somehow, they think now due process should be applied to Joe Biden.”

The Texas Democrats queried by The News didn’t directly address that type of criticism. But many of them defended Biden by citing his policy track record and their personal relationships with him.

Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, said he believed Biden’s “denial of the allegations because I know him and he is an honest person.” Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, said Biden has “devoted much of his life’s work to ending violence against women.”

Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said Biden’s “record speaks for itself.”

“The vice president is also one of the most honorable men that I know and I still fully stand behind him,” he said.

Tom Benning. Tom covers the intersection of business and government in Washington. He came to D.C. in 2016 from The News' Austin bureau. He has also previously worked in Dallas, covering everything from City Hall to transportation to former President George W. Bush. He is a graduate of the University of South Carolina.

tbenning@dallasnews.com @tombenning
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