Joe Biden has issued yet another non-apology to Anita Hill. At the Biden Courage Awards in New York City on Tuesday night, the former vice-president, who is rumored to be considering a presidential run, said he regretted how the Senate Judiciary Committee (which he chaired at the time) handled Anita Hill’s sexual-harassment allegations against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, The Hill reports.
“A brave lawyer, a really notable woman, Anita Hill, a professor, showed the courage of a lifetime talking about her experience being harassed by Clarence Thomas,” Biden said. “But she paid a terrible price. She was abused in the hearing. She was taken advantage of. Her reputation was attacked. I wish I could have done something.”
He went on: “There were a bunch of white guys … hearing this testimony in the Senate Judiciary Committee. So when Anita Hill came to testify, she faced a committee that didn’t fully understand what the hell it was all about. And to this day I regret I couldn’t come up with a way to get her the kind of hearing she deserved given the courage she showed by reaching out to us.”
Biden’s comments strike a careful balance: acknowledging that the Senate Judiciary Committee (which, again, he chaired) mishandled Hill’s testimony, while at the same time, completely sidestepping any personal responsibility for the mishandling. (To reiterate: during Hill’s testimony, Biden was the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.)
Despite his performative hand-wringing now, many detractors note that in 1991, Biden failed to protect Hill from the pointed attacks coming from the all-male, all-white committee. Like the one from Democratic senator Howell Heflen, for instance.
“In trying to determine whether you are telling falsehoods or not, I’ve got to determine what your motivation might be,” he said. “Are you a scorned woman? Do you have a martyr complex? Do you see yourself coming out of this as a hero in the civil-rights movement?”
“No,” Hill replied.
Biden also failed to call forward three witnesses who could have backed up Hill’s claims of sexual harassment. And what’s more, former congresswoman Pat Schroeder — a Democrat from Colorado who was in office during the Thomas confirmation, and lobbied on Hill’s behalf — told the Washington Post in November 2017 that when female lawmakers expressed their concern to Biden that the hearings were being rushed, they found themselves coming up against the boy’s club of the U.S. Senate:
We went to see Biden, because we were so frustrated by it. And he literally kind of pointed his finger and said, you don’t understand how important one’s word was in the Senate, that he had given his word to [Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.), Thomas’s chief sponsor] in the men’s gym that this would be a very quick hearing, and he had to get it out before Columbus Day.
Schroeder and other of Hill’s allies spoke with the Post days after Biden issued an apology of sorts to Hill, saying at the Glamour Women of the Year Summit: “Let’s get something straight here, I believed Anita Hill. I voted against Clarence Thomas.” When asked about Hill’s comments that the hearings were not a fair process, he replied: “The message I’ve delivered before is I am so sorry if she believes that. I am so sorry that she had to go through what she went through. Think of the courage that it took for her to come forward.”
He also told Teen Vogue that same year, “I wish I had been able to do more for Anita Hill,” and “I owe her an apology.”
Still, Biden’s comments ring a little hollow in light of an October 2018 report in the New York Times. According to the Times, Biden had been complaining to friends about the fact that people were drawing parallels between the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and the Thomas confirmation hearings, and about how he thinks it’s unfair that Hill continues to hold him responsible for how her testimony was handled.
In September of 2018, Elle asked Hill if she was still waiting for an apology from Biden. Hill said she had more important things to worry about.
“It’s become sort of a running joke in the household when someone rings the doorbell and we’re not expecting company,” Hill answered. “‘Oh,’ we say, ‘is that Joe Biden coming to apologize?’”
For the time being, it is not.