Pelosi defends Biden as he faces calls to address sexual assault accusation


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday gave a forceful defense of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as some within her party urged him to directly address a woman’s sexual assault accusation against him that his campaign already has denied.

A California woman named Tara Reade, who worked as a staff assistant in Biden’s U.S. Senate office from December 1992 to August 1993, has accused Biden in media interviews of pinning her against a wall in 1993, reaching under her skirt and pushing his fingers inside her.

Additional people have said in media interviews that Reade subsequently told them about an incident with Biden, including two women who corroborated some details in a story published on Monday by the Business Insider news website.

Biden’s campaign has said the incident never occurred. Biden, 77, himself has not responded to the accusation, and the former U.S. vice president has not been questioned on the matter in recent media interviews.

Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, formally endorsed Biden for president on Monday. On Thursday, Pelosi said she continued to fully support Biden.

She noted that staffers who ran Biden’s Senate office have said they had no recollection of a sexual assault complaint. Pelosi also highlighted Biden’s long history of supporting policies to stop the abuse of women.

“I have complete respect for the whole #MeToo movement,” Pelosi said at a news conference. “There is also due process and the fact that Joe Biden is Joe Biden.”

“He is the personification of hope and optimism and authenticity for our country – a person of great values,” Pelosi added.

Reuters has not been able to independently confirm Reade’s accusations and also was unable to reach Reade or a representative for her for comment.

Biden is set to challenge Republican President Donald Trump, 73, in the Nov. 3 U.S. election. Trump has been accused by more than a dozen women of sexual assault and misconduct over the years, allegations he and his aides have denied. Trump’s re-election campaign has tried to turn Reade’s accusations into a liability for Biden.

Some prominent Democratic women have stepped forward to defend Biden. Others have asked him to address the accusations.

“It can’t appear that she’s being ignored just because it’s an inconvenient truth for certain people in the Democratic Party,” said Nina Turner, who was national campaign co-chair for the presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, who dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in New York and Susan Cornwell in Washington; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Will Dunham