House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, over the course of two interviews on Thursday, gave her clearest signal yet to Democrats to keep the faith in Joe Biden as she downplayed the sexual-assault allegation that the presumptive Democratic nominee hasn't addressed personally yet.
Pelosi doubled down on her endorsement of Biden, praised his integrity and reminded the public of the holes in former Senate aide Tara Reade's evolving story and accusation against her onetime boss.
"There was never any record of this," Pelosi said, refuting Reade's claim that she reported the alleged sexual assault to Senate employees back in 1993. "... Nobody ever came forward to say something about it apart from the principal involved."
Her forceful defense comes at a time when Biden has failed to address the allegation directly -- though he's poised to break his silence Friday on MSNBC's Morning Joe -- and his campaign hasn't given any formal messaging guidance to his surrogates on how to address the sexual-assault claims, according to a source familiar with the talking points.
Meanwhile, swing-district Democrats are getting pressure from Republican campaign groups to respond to the Biden allegations and whether they are still "proud" to stand by the former vice president.
As the most high-profile Democrat to give a robust defense, Pelosi's response can provide some cover to Democrats and set an example of how to push back, according to Democrat sources.
"She may have made that calculation that 'I'm getting asked about this. I'm starting to see my members have confusing messages on this. Let me try to forcefully push back on this to provide them some cover.' ... I've seen her do that and other issues where she's kind of a heat shield for frontline or other members," said one aide.
Pelosi's stern defense of Biden -- saying he's "a person of great integrity" -- came when Pelosi was irked she had to respond to reporters' questions when she'd rather be talking about the Democrats' coronavirus response.
"I don't need a lecture," Pelosi snapped at a reporter when asked whether Democrats have a double standard for Biden's accuser.
But Pelosi's effort to shut down the questions could be an effort to take the pressure off her members.
"The speaker has shown that she is a very strategic and masterful leader of our caucus. I think every decision that she makes always has a factor of how it protects the Democratic majority and how it protects our members," the Democrat aide added.
Pelosi's forceful defense of the former vice president -- over the course of a CNN interview and press conference at the Capitol -- comes a day after a prominent member of House leadership, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., gave Reade's allegation credence in an interview on WNYC in New York City.
“It’s got to be taken seriously because this is a serious allegation raised by a serious individual and needs to be investigated seriously," Jeffries, a leader of the Democratic caucus, said Wednesday. "We’ve probably got to hear from him [Biden] at some point directly.”
Jeffries' response came in the context of a lengthy interview that largely centered on the coronavirus response in hard-hit Brooklyn.
“Members in Congress are dealing with life and death situations, related to Donald Trump's COVID disaster," a Democrat source told Fox News. "People are dying all across the country. Members are inundated with requests for assistance in their districts. Nancy Pelosi stepped forward and laid out the facts that are publicly available surrounding this case, which helped shield members from all receiving the same question over and over again.”
And her cover seems to be working. Fox News reached out to multiple Democrats Thursday for comment on the Biden allegations, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.; Steny Hoyer, D-Md.; Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.; Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Annie Kuster, D-N.H. None responded.
On the Senate side, Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; Chris Coons, D-Del.; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, also did not respond to requests for comment.
Democrats are in a tough spot as strong backers of the #MeToo movement who have given credibility to a sexual-assault allegation against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the numerous allegations President Trump.
But some have also privately expressed deep concerns about the Reade allegations, which the Biden campaign aides have denied. Reade, a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said last year to a local newspaper that Biden put his hands on her shoulders and rubbed his fingers up and down her neck.
Her story was largely buried in the context of several other women who came forward with their stories to say Biden touched or kissed them in ways that were unwanted. Biden responded at the time saying he'd be more respectful of people's personal space.
Now, this year, Reade's account dramatically escalated; she claims Biden pinned her against a wall, penetrated her with his fingers and kissed her.
Reade told The New York Times that she reported the incident to three Biden senate staffers and filed a written complaint with a Senate personnel office. The three staffers denied ever hearing concerns from Reade. Neither Reade nor the Senate could produce a copy of any record of a formal complaint against Biden.
“As the leader of our party, Nancy Pelosi stepped forward and simply outlined many publicly available truths surrounding this case," said one Democratic source on Pelosi's stance. "One is that there are multiple people whom Tara Reade claims she informed about this allegation. And all four of those entities said that did not happen. Further, there seem to be many inconsistencies with her story. That's all publicly available information. That's simply what Nancy Pelosi provided.”
But over the course of the new reporting, several new developments happened that gave oxygen to Reade's account.
A "Larry King Live" clip from 1993 was unearthed on Friday that purportedly featured Reade's mother calling in to the show anonymously and alluding to her daughter's "problems" with a "prominent senator."
On Monday, two more people -- a former neighbor and a former colleague of Reade's -- said they remembered conversations they had with her back in the 1990s. One remembered her account of the alleged assault, and another remembered her mentioning harassment, but not assault.
Biden's campaign has denied the allegation.
“Women have a right to tell their story, and reporters have an obligation to rigorously vet those claims. We encourage them to do so, because these accusations are false,” Kate Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager and communications director for the Biden campaign, said in a previous statement to Fox News.
Until Biden tackles the issue head-on, Pelosi's statement will be a guide for the Democratic caucus, another aide told Fox News.
"It's a balancing act for Democrats," the Democrat said. "This is like a total double-edged sword. No one's talking about Donald Trump and the two dozen accusers who have come forward against a sitting president the same way they talk about one accuser [against Biden.]"
Trump has been accused by at least 18 women of sexual misconduct -- which range from unwanted touching to sexual assault -- during purported incidents occurring between the late 1980s up until 2013.
Asked about Reade Thursday, Trump said: "I don't know anything about it. I think he should respond. It could be false accusations -- I know all about false accusations. I've been falsely charged numerous times."
Fox News' Morgan Phillips contributed to this report.