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GOP groups seize on Tara Reade allegations to attack Democrats

Poll: Voters divided on Biden allegations
New poll shows voters are divided on Joe Biden sexual assault allegation 16:22

In competitive House and Senate races across the country, some Republican groups have been seizing on former Senate staffer Tara Reade's sexual assault allegations against Joe Biden to denounce their Democratic rivals. Through press releases and social media posts, conservative groups have launched a flurry of attacks targeting candidates in competitive races, both for not weighing in on the topic or for standing by their party's presumptive nominee, and calling on reporters to ask Democrats where they stand on the accusations.

"@RepFletcher frequently called out her opponent for "inaction" on sexual assault in the last election. Now Lizzie is dead silent about the new court docs corroborating Tara Read's sexual assault claim against @JoeBiden," the Congressional Leadership Fund Tweeted last week about freshman House Democrat Lizzie Fletcher. 

The post is one of dozens of tweets from the group, a super PAC tied to Republican leadership in the U.S. House, criticizing 2020 Democratic candidates over Reade's allegations, which Biden has denied. But if GOP-affiliated groups haven't been shy about slamming Democrats because they're not confronting Biden over the accusations, they're being selective about where they're posting their attacks. 

On Facebook, where the super PAC spent on dozens of political ads in Christy Smith's special election race in California's 25th District, none made any mention of Reade or Biden. Smith lost the special election race to Mike Garcia on Tuesday, but the two will face off again in November in the general election.

Smith has not officially endorsed her party's presumptive nominee, but she did speak out about the allegations in an interview with Slate.

"I think an investigation is warranted, given the circumstances. I think that a lot of it has already been done, but I don't think that is a compelling component in my campaign," she said. "What I find really interesting is that this is where Republicans want to go right now."

"We suspect this will be a very nasty campaign. They'll try to shift the narrative to China. They'll try to shift the narrative to these allegations," Congressman Ami Bera said in an interview with CBS News. The California Democrat is a frequent surrogate for Biden's campaign and co-chairs House Democrats' program for vulnerable incumbents.

Still, Bera doesn't think the attacks are having much of an impact on the Democratic races. "It's obvious that the Republican members of Congress in down-ballot races, as well as the president, can't run on his failed record of leadership," he said.

While several House Democrats have held out on individually endorsing Biden, a group representing many of them — the New Democrat Coalition — is giving him its support. His allies insist the delays have more to do with timing and the pandemic than with Reade's accusations.

New Hampshire Congressman Chris Pappas, who recently endorsed Biden, is a member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's (DCCC) "Frontline" program for vulnerable incumbents.

"It was important for Vice President Biden to address these allegations head on, and it is always important that women are able to come forward and be heard," Pappas told CBS News. "I trust that he has been truthful. Moving forward he has to continue to show the American people that he is prepared to lead through this crisis and beyond."

Many of the DCCC's "Frontliners" have been quiet on the topic of the Reade allegations, a frequent talking point in email blasts from their counterparts at the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Of the group's 42 members, at least eight have addressed Tara Reade's allegations: Tom O'Halleran of Arizona, Steven Horsford and Susie Lee of Nevada, Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, Katie Porter of California, Susan Wild of Pennsylvania and Pappas. 

Republican groups invested in competitive Senate races have called on Democratic senators and challengers to make a statement on the allegation, and in recent days, many have. 

Democratic challengers Theresa Greenfield in Iowa and Sara Gideon in Maine both made statements over the weekend saying sexual assault allegations should be taken seriously and be thoroughly looked into. They believe the allegation has been and still support Biden. 

The GOP state party in Michigan has been counting the days since Reade came forward that Senator Gary Peters, up for reelection in November, has not commented on the allegation. 

In a statement to CBS News, Peters said, "Everybody deserves the right to be heard respectfully and taken seriously. I can only speak to the person I know, and I know Joe Biden has denied these allegations." 

After Mark Kelly, the Democrat seeking to unseat Republican Senator Martha McSally in Arizona, said he still supported the former vice president, the Senate GOP's campaign arm decried Kelly for "throwing due process out the window." 

"Kelly will do or say whatever Washington Democrats tell him, and Arizonans will see his hypocrisy and blind party loyalty on display each time Kavanaugh or Joe Biden come up on the campaign trail," Joanna Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement Saturday.

But McSally isn't saying much about the charges either. The Republican incumbent has publicly focused her efforts — and her criticism — around the issues that have animated most races around the country: healthcareprescription drugs, and COVID-19

CBS News reached out to all 53 Senate Republicans earlier this month. Only four senators responded, all referencing previous statements they had made on the allegations. '

One GOP strategist suggested that Republican outside groups can be a "blunt instrument" used "to point out the rank hypocrisy on display by Democrat candidates," while incumbent senators "focus on COVID relief." 

Graham's office referred CBS News to an interview the South Carolina Republican did with Fox News saying he had "never seen him do anything untoward toward a woman" over the 20 years he has known Biden.

"The Joe Biden I know, I've never seen him — believed that he would do anything like this until you convince me otherwise. But I think he should reveal the records. But is there a double standard? Of course," Graham added.

At least one pro-Trump super PAC has touted an ad highlighting Reade's accusation. Another conservative group is mulling an effort targeting competitive Senate races.

President Trump's campaign has released videos and statements blasting Democrats over Tara Reade, but has yet to commit any funds to boost their ads on the topic. The president, who himself has faced multiple accusations of sexual assault, has mostly avoided the topic. When asked about the allegation, Mr. Trump has said that Biden should "just go out and fight it."

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