Joe Biden admits that he owes Anita Hill an apology for how he handled her sexual assault allegations
Joe Biden has been doing a lot of good work when it comes to preventing sexual assault and violence through the It’s On Us campaign. But the former vice president’s track record is far from perfect in this area. Following this current wave of sexual harassment and assault allegations, Biden told Teen Vogue that he owes Anita Hill an apology for how he handled her allegations against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas decades ago.
Biden has expressed regret over how he handled Hill’s allegations in the past, but before we get into his most recent apology — here’s a brief history lesson. In 1991, President George H. W. Bush nominated Thomas for the Supreme Court. As CBS reported, Hill submitted a confidential statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee — the committee that holds hearings before the Senate votes to confirm federal judges, which includes Supreme Court justices — that said Thomas had sexually harassed her when they worked together 10 years before. The committee decided not to pursue these allegations, but Hill’s statement was leaked to the public. This caused women’s groups and Democrats in Congress to push the committee to pursue these allegations. Hill was summoned to give her testimony in front of the committee, and as chairman, Biden oversaw this hearing.
In 2016, HBO released Confirmation, a movie about Thomas’s confirmation hearing, which starred Kerry Washington as Hill. And now, 26 years after the original incident, Biden is speaking out about what he could have done better in that hearing.
"I wish I had been able to do more for Anita Hill," Biden said to Teen Vogue. "I owe her an apology."
Like with almost all cases of sexual harassment allegations against a politician, things were — well, what else? — political. Since Thomas was nominated by a Republican president, Republicans wanted Thomas to be confirmed. “My one regret is that I wasn’t able to tone down the attacks on her by some of my Republican friends. I mean, they really went after her,” Biden said. “As much as I tried to intervene, I did not have the power to gavel them out of order. I tried to be like a judge and only allow a question that would be relevant to ask.”
“I believed Anita Hill. I voted against Clarence Thomas,” Biden said. But the Senate confirmed Thomas’ nomination nonetheless. So Biden said that he tried to change the face of the Senate Judiciary Committee for future hearings. “I campaigned for two women Senators on the condition that if they won they would come on the Judiciary Committee, so there would never be again all men making a judgment on this,” Biden said.
However, as recently as November 2017, Hill has made it clear that she thinks Biden mishandled the situation — and it still bothers her. On a previous apology from Biden, Hill told The Washington Post:
"I still don’t think it takes ownership of his role in what happened. And he also doesn't understand that it wasn't just that I felt it was not fair. 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."
Another element that Biden reflected on to Teen Vogue was how other women were supposed to come in and back up Hill’s testimony.
"I wasn't able to convince three women we'd subpoenaed to cooperate with testimony. At the last minute, they changed their mind and said they wouldn't do it. I had them sign an affidavit saying, 'I want you to come, and you're saying, No, I will not come.' In retrospect, some, including Anita, think I should have subpoenaed them no matter what." Biden said. "The reason I didn't, I was worried they would come and not corroborate what she said and make — I mean, Clarence Thomas only won by two votes. And we still thought we had a chance at beating him."
Biden is speaking about this now because, amid all of the allegations, he recognizes that public perception of sexual harassment and assault needs to change. “We’re now at a point here where we have a chance to change the culture,” Biden said.
So despite what Biden did to hurt the cause in the past, he is advocating for the culture to change. “I’ve gotten asked by press a lot of the last 23 years, how will I know when I’ve succeeded. We will have succeeded when not a single woman who is abused ever, ever, ever asks herself, ‘What did I do?’” he said.
While we’d prefer that no woman — or man — is ever sexually abused ever again, that’s a pretty good place to start.