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Pa.’s four congresswomen will campaign for Joe Biden as he faces pressure on sexual-assault accusation

Pressure has been growing on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden to personally address the years-old accusation by a former aide.

Clockwise from top left: U.S. Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon, Chrissy Houlahan, Madeleine Dean and Susan Wild, all Pennsylvania Democrats, will hold an online event supporting presidential candidate Joe Biden Friday as he faces increasing pressure over a sexual assault allegation. Biden's campaign has denied the accusation.
Clockwise from top left: U.S. Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon, Chrissy Houlahan, Madeleine Dean and Susan Wild, all Pennsylvania Democrats, will hold an online event supporting presidential candidate Joe Biden Friday as he faces increasing pressure over a sexual assault allegation. Biden's campaign has denied the accusation.Read moreStaff Photos/AP

As they prepared to campaign for Joe Biden on Friday, Pennsylvania’s four Democratic congresswomen had little to say about the sexual-assault accusation he now faces.

“When there are allegations of misconduct of any kind, there must be responsible investigation, and there must be space for all claims to be heard,” said the entirety of a joint statement Thursday from Reps. Madeleine Dean, Chrissy Houlahan, Mary Gay Scanlon, and Susan Wild. They declined interview requests.

They call themselves the “Fab Four” — a quartet of women from the Philadelphia suburbs and Lehigh Valley who broke into what had been Pennsylvania’s all-male congressional delegation in 2018, riding a Democratic wave fueled by female activism, concurrent with a rising focus on gender inequality and the #MeToo movement against sexual abuse.

On Friday they’ll host an online roundtable touting Biden’s plans, promoting his campaign as the former vice president has faced increasing pressure to personally respond to an accusation that his campaign has denied. They will cap a week in which Biden has staged events with other notable women, including Hillary Clinton and soccer star Megan Rapinoe.

The Pennsylvania congresswomen will take questions from Biden supporters, but not the media, according to the campaign.

Biden’s refusal, so far, to address in his own voice the accusation from a former Senate aide, Tara Reade, has frustrated some progressives and advocates for women, who have been pressed by reporters to comment on it.

Supporters of President Donald Trump, meanwhile, have been attacking Democrats for hypocrisy because the party helped drive a firestorm over a sexual-assault allegation against conservative Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his 2018 confirmation proceedings.

Some Democrats worry the issue could become a weight around Biden as he takes on a president skilled at attacking opponents or that it could hinder his ability to rally progressives who have questioned whether he should remain the party’s standard-bearer.

“If we support women and we believe women, we need to be consistent in the application of that,” said Sara Innamorato, a progressive Democratic state representative who represents part of Pittsburgh and backed Bernie Sanders in the primary.

Innamorato hasn’t decided whether to endorse Biden but said he must address the allegations. She noted that people around Biden have been asked to weigh in when the former vice president, who frequently appears on TV, has not been asked.

“The allegations are directed toward you — why haven’t you had to acknowledge it? That’s the frustrating part. He should have to answer for it.”

Dana Brown, executive director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women in Politics at Chatham University, also emphasized the importance of hearing from Biden directly, not his allies.

“We don’t want women to have to answer for a sexual-assault allegation that they are not accused of,” Brown said. “The power dynamic here is important."

The campaign has largely avoided the topic, as if Biden’s long public record, and the trust he has among many voters, will fend off the allegation. His supporters have backed him when asked about it.

“Joe Biden is Joe Biden,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday, calling him “a person of great integrity” and noting his work on the Violence Against Women Act. “I want to remove all doubt in anyone’s mind, I have a great comfort level with the situation as I see it, with all the respect in the world for any woman who comes forward, with all the highest regard for Joe Biden.”

Another of Biden’s most prominent Pennsylvania supporters, Sen. Bob Casey, said Thursday that “every woman has a right to tell her story and be heard in a safe and respectful manner” but that Reade’s claim “is inconsistent with the Joe Biden I have known for the last two decades as a friend and colleague.”

Casey said he was looking forward to Biden’s appearance Friday morning on MSNBC, when Biden is likely to be asked about the issue.

Trump, for his part, said Thursday: “I think he should respond. It could be false accusations. I know all about false accusations.”

The accusation has gained steam as Biden wrapped up the Democratic nomination and strengthened his polling lead in swing states, including Pennsylvania, as many voters soured on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

» READ MORE: Coronavirus is taking a political toll on Trump as Biden leads in Pennsylvania and other swing states, poll says

Reade’s claims have rumbled through the campaign since late March, when she told her story in a podcast interview. Reade last year had first accused Biden of touching her neck and shoulders in ways that made her uncomfortable. But in March, as Biden was about to secure the Democratic presidential nomination, Reade brought a much more serious charge: that in a Senate hallway in 1993, he pushed her against a wall, inserted his fingers inside her and, when she resisted, said, “You’re nothing to me. Nothing." She says she was soon relieved of most of her office responsibilities.

"What is clear about this claim: It is untrue. This absolutely did not happen,” campaign spokesperson Kate Bedingfield has said. The campaign declined to comment for this story.

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Associated Press have all done lengthy investigations into Reade’s story. None found any other sexual-assault claims against Biden, and none conclusively proved or disproved the decades-old accusation. (Some other women have previously said Biden has kissed them on the head, touched or hugged them in ways that made them uncomfortable, but none described assault.)

Reade’s story gained renewed attention this week when two women provided information to the online news outlet Business Insider supporting her. Lynda LaCasse, a former neighbor of Reade’s, said Reade told her of the sexual assault in 1995 or 1996. LaCasse described herself as a “strong Democrat” who intends to support Biden.

Lorraine Sanchez said she remembered Reade complaining about sexual harassment by a former boss in Washington.

Aides who worked in Biden’s office with Reade have said they did not recall her ever raising such accusations.

Reade supported Sen. Bernie Sanders, Biden’s top rival, in the Democratic primary, but has said politics had nothing to do with her coming forward.

Trump has, over the years, been accused of sexual assault or misconduct by more than a dozen women, often for more serious actions, including rape. The infamous Access Hollywood tape caught him boasting about grabbing women’s genitals. Trump has denied any misconduct.

» READ MORE: Hillary Clinton becomes latest Democrat to endorse Biden

Still, the Trump campaign, including the president’s son Donald Jr., has hammered Democrats and the media over the Biden story, pointing back to the Kavanaugh debate.

During that fight, Wild spoke out against what she saw as a GOP rush to confirm the justice.

“We must believe the testimony of women who have experienced sexual assault, we must stand up and declare that such behavior is intolerable,” Wild tweeted in September 2018, shortly before her election.

Scanlon had also criticized Republicans for moving too quickly, tweeting that his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, “certainly appears credible and she deserves to be heard," while also noting Kavanaugh’s denial.