2020-05-16 00:16:36 UTC
Former Vice President Joe Bidens reputation as a serial toucher has, in a way,
turned the sexual assault allegations against him into a matter of, Who are you
gonna believe, me or your lying eyes? But Bidens firm denial of wrongdoing now
has the backing of dozens of his former staffers.
PBS NewsHour spoke to 74 former Biden staffersincluding 62 womenabout the
accusations made by Tara Reade, the former Biden Senate staffer who says Biden
sexually assaulted her in the 90s. The overall consensus: Biden might have been
a little hands-on, but he was far from the biggest creep in the Senate.
The former staffers noted that while their experiences do not negate Reades
allegations, neither their personal experiences nor the Senate rumor mill
matched Reades allegations. According to NewsHour, None of the people
interviewed said that they had experienced sexual harassment, assault or
misconduct by Biden. All said they never heard any rumors or allegations of
Biden engaging in sexual misconduct, until the recent assault allegation made by
The lengthy dive into Biden, Reade, and Capitol Hill culture in the 90s made a
valiant effort at uncovering any and all tales of exploitative or violent
behavior by the former senator that might have gotten buried over the decades. A
lack of a pattern or string of sexual assault allegations doesnt necessarily
mean there arent anyor that all those who commit assault or misconduct
necessarily do so in a patternbut the fact that not a single former staffer PBS
spoke to came forward with additional allegations is an obvious win for Team
Still, there was one pattern that was well known to staffers: Shoulder massages,
and lots of them.
Alongside Reades sexual assault allegations, she also said that Biden often
rubbed her shoulders and neck. Seven other women also accused Biden of
inappropriate touching, including shoulder rubs and smelling their hair. In
April 2019, a few weeks before announcing his presidential run, Biden released a
video message acknowledging the allegations of unwanted touching.
Ive always tried to make a human connection, Biden said. I shake hands. I
hug people. I grab men and women by the shoulders and say they can do this.
[...] Social norms have begun to change. Theyve shifted, and the boundaries of
protecting personal space have been reset, and I get it. I get it. I hear what
theyre saying. I understand it. And Ill be much more mindful. Thats my
One has to wonder how many men got a hair sniff from Biden, but the staffers PBS
spoke to saw his touchy nature as an endearing quality that wasnt sexual in
We knew that about Biden, [former Senate staffer Mary] Byrne said. He was
always massaging somebodys shoulders. But never anything more than that. There
was no vibe about him.
Many staffers stressed that people frequently gravitate to Biden, as a kind of
comforter-in-chief, and look for an arm around a shoulder or a kiss on the
A former staffer said that when Biden does things like stroking womens hair,
theres a complicated dynamic at play.
His behavior toward women can be somewhat infantilizing, the staffer said.
That doesnt look like equality, right? But that was an expression of empathy,
as opposed to flirtation.
One staffer admitted that, in retrospect, Bidens touchy tendencies should have
been called out, telling NewsHour, We probably should have recognized that made
people uncomfortable. But unexpected touches from men were reportedly so
commonplace that Bidens were not noticeably predatory.
Bryne said, I remember sitting at a desk outside the Agriculture Committee and
one staffer would come in and give you a shoulder massage, say you are doing
good. Men there felt they had access to your body as a young woman.
Bryne even allegedly once saw a female deputy chief of staff sitting on a
Creepy senators were so rampant that those who were particularly egregious
landed on the Senate version of a Shitty Media Men list. Bidens brand of
encouraging shoulder rubs apparently didnt make the cut:
You got to know which senators you didnt want to be on an elevator alone
with, said Liz Tankersley, who was Bidens legislative director from 1985 to
1993. No one ever said Joe Biden was one of them.
On that list in 1993, according to multiple staffers, was Sen. Bob Packwood,
R-Ore. He later resigned, in 1995, after the public revelation that he had
engaged in years of aggressive sexual behavior toward women, including staffers.
The late Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., was also infamously on the avoid-elevator
list, staffers claimed. So was another now-deceased lawmaker Sen. Ted Kennedy,
A Man Men-style office culture might have been the norm, but that doesnt mean
the women staffers who had to experience a Senator snaking his arm around their
waist just shrugged it off. Sexual harassment allegations shook up politics
repeatedly in the early 90sperhaps most notably Anita Hills allegations
against Justice Clarence Thomasand norms were already changing then, not just
now, 30 years later. And yet, that Bidenwith his shoulder rubs and hair
strokeswasnt the kind of guy women staffers were told to avoid at all costs
says less about Biden, and more about the countless men on Capitol Hill who were
never forced to acknowledge their unfettered entitlement over womens bodies.
That there are likely several women who have felt fear in the presence of the
powerful, beloved politicians they worked for because a grab here and a kiss
there was just another day at the office is an infuriating prospect, one that
neither benevolent acts nor groundbreaking legislation can nullify.