First-term U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, who won the DFL Party endorsement this weekend in her re-election bid, told the Sunday Times of London that she believes Tara Reade, a former U.S. Senate staffer who has leveled sexual assault allegations against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
“I do believe Reade,” Omar told the newspaper in an interview that ran Sunday, the same day she won the DFL endorsement. “Justice can be delayed but should never be denied.”
In a subsequent tweet on Monday, Omar said “believing survivors is consistent with my values,” but added she will still vote for Biden and help him defeat President Donald Trump.
The former vice president has flatly denied Reade’s claims, which have grown in different interviews she has given to journalists. Her original accounts of an incident she said took place at the U.S. Capitol in the early 1990s did not include an allegation of sexual assault.
Omar’s remarks, made in a May 6 interview, make her the first major Democratic figure in Minnesota to give credence to Reade’s allegations. The charges against Biden have reverberated in the MeToo movement that has brought down major figures in politics, entertainment and the media.
Omar also told the Times that if it were up to her, Biden wouldn’t be the Democratic presidential nominee.
Omar was a prominent supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has suspended his presidential campaign and thrown his support behind Biden. Another prominent Sanders supporter in the Minnesota DFL, Attorney General Keith Ellison, has yet to publicly endorse Biden.
Republicans have used Reade’s allegations to attack Biden and accuse his Democratic backers of hypocrisy for dismissing her claims. Many leading Democrats, including Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a potential vice presidential pick, have expressed support for Biden.
Biden, dealing with the fallout from the MeToo movement, said in a recent MSNBC interview that if someone believes Reade, “they probably shouldn’t vote for me.”
Omar, answering critics on Twitter on Monday, suggested that “quotes aren’t always in context.” But she did not say which quotes might have been taken out of context, nor did she say whether her published statements about Reade were misconstrued.
Her campaign spokesman confirmed on Monday the accuracy of the statements attributed to her in the newspaper.
Omar won the DFL endorsement in a single round of balloting Sunday with 65% of the party vote. Her main challenger, attorney and mediator Antone Melton-Meaux, received nearly 31%.
Melton-Meaux, criticizing Omar’s penchant for controversy, has vowed to continue his challenge in the Aug. 11 Democratic primary.
“Ilhan Omar’s insistence on propping up a serious allegation without evidence against our presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is not only wrongheaded but dangerous,” Melton-Meaux said in a statement Monday. “Casually promoting right wing attacks to smear Vice President Biden because he’s not your preferred kind of Democrat shows that Rep. Omar does not take seriously the stakes of this election.”
Responding to social media posts accusing her of sowing discord among Democrats, Omar said she would still work hard to defeat Trump.
“We can’t fend off perceived attacks with attacks on others,” she tweeted Monday. “This is the most important election cycle of our lifetimes and we aren’t going to have a chance if we don’t spend our energy mobilizing and building enthusiasm against Trump. That’s the goal we should all be united on.”
Kevin Diaz • 612-673-4748