Politics

A Biden Accuser on Tara Reade’s Allegation, Biden’s Response, and the Democrats’ Bind

Lucy Flores and Joe Biden stand in front of a lectern and speak into microphones
Lucy Flores introduces Joe Biden at a get-out-the-vote rally at a union hall on Nov. 1, 2014, in Las Vegas. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Last spring, before Joe Biden was officially even running for president, Lucy Flores accused him of making her feel uncomfortable in a peculiar way. In 2014, she ran for lieutenant governor of Nevada, and Biden had agreed to stump with her. Flores says they were getting ready to step out onstage together, and then Biden leaned in to sniff her head and plant a slow kiss. As Lucy told this story publicly, over and over again, hate mail started pouring in. And Biden said he didn’t believe he’d ever acted inappropriately. But after Flores spoke out, more women came forward with their own accusations against Biden. One of them is Tara Reade, who says he assaulted her when she worked in his Senate office back in the 1990s. Flores told me that after she went public with her allegation, Reade reached out to her. They didn’t talk further at the time, but they got back in touch when the new allegations emerged.

On Tuesday’s episode of What Next, I spoke with Flores about her own experience and whether she believes Reade. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mary Harris: I’m wondering what your conversations with Reade have been like.

Lucy Flores: I’ve only spoken to her once since she came out with her full story, and the entire conversation was about moral support and giving her whatever feedback I could in terms of the ways people were going to come for her, and the various things she needed to do to protect herself. I think it was practical advice and letting her know that I was thinking about her and obviously empathize with everything she’s going through.

What’s your No. 1 piece of practical advice?

My No. 1 piece of advice was that she really needed to take it day by day and focus on herself and her truth and her why.

Her why?

Yes. Like, why did you decide to speak out?

Tell me more about that.

That’s what kept me grounded. When I was experiencing so much harassment after I spoke about my interactions, I had to always focus on “Why did I decide to do this?” And Reade and I talked about those reasons.

I’m curious: Why did you decide to tell your story? What was your decision process?

The primary reason was I’d begun to see photos emerging of him interacting in similar ways with other women. There were written stories and a vignette that was done by Jon Stewart making fun of “creepy Uncle Joe.”

I had to constantly be reminded that he was acting this way, that he was making women feel uncomfortable. And everyone was laughing about it. It was not being treated seriously. I knew from personal experience what that felt like. And it’s wrong.

Telling your own story was a way of shifting the way others saw what happened to you: not as an incident that was laughably awkward, but one where you were actually harmed. That gives you empathy for Tara Reade, who seems to be seeing what happened in her own life through new eyes.

Her allegations of what happened in Biden’s office have become more extreme over time. At first, Reade told reporters Biden made her “uncomfortable.” She said he ran a finger up her neck during a meeting and asked her to serve cocktails because she had “nice legs.” But that story evolved into a full-on assault charge.

I don’t consider the evolving stories Reade has told as “changing the story.”

Why not?

Because all she did was leave out details. She hasn’t changed the fundamental substance of any of the things she said she experienced. It has all been parts she omitted. This is what I think: You gain the confidence or the courage to tell a little bit more. And she did try to tell a little bit more shortly thereafter. But media was not—and the AP said this—able at the time to corroborate those parts of the stories. And yet, after Katie Halper’s podcast, all of these additional journalists have found corroboration. So you have to question some outlets: How much effort did you really put into corroborating these stories if they were so easily corroborated now?

Joe Biden denies that anything happened between himself and Reade. It sounds like you believe all of her allegations, including the most recent ones.

I do believe Reade. And ultimately, in all of these situations, everyone will have to come to their own conclusions. But there is rarely smoking gun evidence, and I just hope that when folks are assessing this, they’re doing so with an informed viewpoint and not because they have immediately made this knee-jerk reaction because this person doesn’t fit the profile of a perfect victim.

Can we talk a bit about how the media has responded to Reade’s allegations? I know you were concerned that Reade wouldn’t be interviewed by as many outlets as Biden was, that her voice wouldn’t be heard on the same footing as his. Do you still have that concern?

I do have that concern. I know she declined interviews. I can certainly see why she would do that. She’s talked about receiving death threats. That’s a scary place to be in. But at the same time, we end up having a lot of these conversations without her opinion, without her voice, without her ability to react to some of the conclusions people are coming to. It’s certainly one thing to have opinions about this. It’s another thing to make determinations about her motive or her character or whatever else people try to come up with in order to discredit her. I know that from experience, because that’s what happened to me. But again, I’m in a very different situation. I come from the political world. I had interacted with media many, many times before. I kind of knew what I needed to do in order to get my voice out there and not allow the narrative to be stolen from me. But at the end of the day I was not successful at that.

Why do you say that?

Because I think that, even up until now, people still characterize Biden’s inappropriate behavior as him just being a hugger or extra-affectionate.

In a video response to the allegations last spring, Biden leaned into this reasoning and said he’s just a touchy-feely guy. He promised to be “more mindful and respectful of people’s personal space.” But on the campaign trail, he’s sounded like he’s anything but remorseful.

He’s made jokes about it throughout the entire campaign, laughing and giggling that he had asked for consent to shake someone’s hand or give them a consensual hug. No one ever said there was anything wrong with that. That is actually appropriate. That’s what people should do. But to joke about it was such a slap in the face. And you don’t get the opportunity to continue to talk about it. I think that is what happens to so many women who speak out: They do it at the beginning, they get some media coverage, and then the perpetrator continues to have that microphone, so you just fade.

It’s the person with more power, right? They end up with the final word. I look back at someone like Anita Hill, and in that situation, it almost seems like that dynamic has flipped. Now we hear from her about this issue far more than you hear from Clarence Thomas. It did make me think about who has the power, and how the dynamic can shift over time.

That is the one thing that gives me some hope: that we women can go on into the future and become leaders and advocates and powerful voices in our fight for equality. But at the same time, you see how much sacrifice needed to be made by those women. You see how long it took. You see everything that they had to go through, that they were subjected to careerwise and in their personal life.

One of the things that I remind people of is that the responsibility ultimately is on these men and not on us. If Joe Biden loses in November, it’s nobody’s fault but his own.

Are you worried people are going to blame the women who came forward if he loses?

Absolutely. We’re always blamed.

Have you already gotten those emails?

I get them all the time. If Trump wins, it’s my fault. If Trump wins, it’s Reade’s fault. If Trump wins, it’s the fault of the female journalists who covered the story. It’s going to be our fault.

It’s not our fault for demanding more for ourselves. That is our right. That is what we should be doing. It is Joe Biden’s fault for not addressing this and for not leading when what he is running for is the top leadership position of this country.

Can we talk about what it would look like for Biden to do the right thing here? He’s never spoken to you since you made your allegation, right?

No, he has not. But I also tell people that that shouldn’t surprise anyone. It took him about 30 years to call Anita Hill, and that was only because he was forced to when he was about to announce his campaign. And even then he didn’t apologize, according to Anita Hill. So, I don’t expect anything from Joe Biden. He has a problem with acknowledging his mistakes. That is the No. 1 thing he needs to do in order to move forward. If he wants to convince more people to vote for him than for Trump, he is going to have to take leadership not only on this subject, but on all kinds of different subjects. But the first step in that is acknowledging that he has done harm.

Were you disappointed when Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and others came out in support of Joe Biden?

I think everyone is in such a very tough position. It feels like an impossible choice. Biden is the presumed nominee. I don’t know what process we can do in order for him to not be the nominee aside from him stepping down, which I don’t believe he’s ever going to do. The Democratic National Committee has already responded to the New York Times editorial board asking for an actual independent investigation—the committee called that idea “absurd.” And the chairman, Tom Perez, is on national outlets already defending Biden. I think people could have waited in order to find out more information and be more nuanced about their stances because we are in such a terrible predicament. In many ways, yes, I was disappointed, but at the same time, what do we do?

Who do you plan to vote for in November?

I am very, very begrudgingly voting for Biden. That question was posed to me when I first talked about my interactions with him, and to me, it’s about harm reduction for women in this country. It’s very clear that Donald Trump, when you’re comparing the two, is significantly more harmful to women. I do feel compelled to vote against him. But it’s very clearly not a vote for Biden. I think it’s a painful situation to be in, and it’s going to be painful for many survivors—which, by the way, I don’t call myself a survivor. But there are sexual assault survivors who are going through a lot right now because of this. What a terrible, terrible place to be in, to have to vote for a possible assaulter and a probable assaulter.

Listen to the full episode using the player below, or subscribe to What Next on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.