Former Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he wished he “could have done something” to prevent the attacks against law Professor Anita Hill that followed her sexual harassment allegations in 1991 against now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
“To this day, I regret that I couldn’t get her the type of hearing she deserved,” Biden said at an award ceremony in New York honoring students working to combat sexual assault on college campuses. “She paid a terrible price. She was abused through the hearing. She was taken advantage of, her reputation was attacked.”
Biden, who is widely expected to formally announce a 2020 presidential bid soon, has faced criticism for his handling of Thomas’ 1991 confirmation hearing, when he was a Democratic senator from Delaware and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Biden famously did not allow testimony from several other women who had similar allegations or could corroborate Hill’s allegations against Thomas.
The former vice president has expressed regret for the treatment Hill received, although Hill has called this insufficient because he did not directly address his own role in the matter.
When the Me Too movement escalated in the fall of 2017, Biden, asked about his handling of Hill’s allegations, said: “I am so sorry that she had to go through what she went through” — while stressing that he “believed Anita Hill” and “voted against Clarence Thomas.”
Hill, now a law professor at Brandeis University and a prominent scholar on workplace sexual harassment, said in response: “That’s sort of an ‘I’m sorry if you were offended.’”
She pointed out that Biden’s quasi-apology omitted “his role in what happened.”
“He also doesn’t understand that it wasn’t just that I felt it was not fair,” Hill told The Washington Post in November 2017. “It was that women were looking to the Senate Judiciary Committee and his leadership to really open the way to have these kinds of hearings. They should have been using best practices to show leadership on this issue on behalf of women’s equality. And they did just the opposite.”
A month later, Biden told Teen Vogue: “I wish I had been able to do more for Anita Hill. I owe her an apology” ― again framing his comments by absolving himself of responsibility at the time.
Last September, as the Senate considered Professor Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations against now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Biden attempted to offer a public mea culpa to Hill.
“I am sorry I couldn’t have stopped the kind of attacks that came to [Hill],” Biden said, before defending himself yet again. “But I never attacked her. I supported her. I believed her from the beginning, and I voted against Clarence Thomas.”
Hill did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Biden’s most recent remarks.
In September, she told Elle magazine that she’s not waiting for an apology from Biden.
“People were asking, ‘When are you going to apologize to her?’ It’s become sort of a running joke in the household when someone rings the doorbell and we’re not expecting company. ‘Oh,’ we say, ‘is that Joe Biden coming to apologize?’” she said. “There are more important things to me now than hearing an apology from Joe Biden. I’m okay with where I am.”
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.