Speaking at The Biden Courage Awards on Tuesday night, former Vice President Joe Biden brought up one of the many less-than-brilliant marks on his record: the Anita Hill hearings. Biden was the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time of Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings, during which Hill testified about her allegations that Thomas had sexually harassed her.
“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, according to The Hill. “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.”
“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,” he added.
Biden also remarked that he ultimately opposed Thomas’s nomination.
This statement, to put it mildly, is a rewrite of history that paints Biden as a well-intentioned bystander, rather than one of the main antagonists.
Most notably, at the time of the hearings, Biden did not allow other women who made similar allegations against Thomas to testify, nor did he allow experts in sexual harassment to submit affidavits.
“He was basically playing judge,” Georgetown University law professor Susan Deller Ross, an expert in workplace sexual harassment who assisted Hill at the time of the hearings, told the New York Times of Biden in 2008. “I’m sure you remember nobody played advocate for [Hill]. I don’t think he did well and he bears responsibility for Mr. Thomas being on the court.”
“He did everything to make it be good for Thomas and to slant it against her,” Ross added.
Biden was heavily criticized by women’s advocates for his performance during the hearings, both at the time and in the years since.
The former vice president is clearly well aware that his history with women could hurt his chances in the 2020 Democratic primary, which he is expected to enter any day. So it makes sense that Biden has mentioned Hill several times as he’s considered a potential run.
Last year, during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, he said he regretted his conduct in 1991.
“The one regret I have is I wish there had been a way I could’ve controlled the questions. But you can’t in a committee. Remember, when they went after the last victim [Hill], I kept trying to gavel, but there was no way to say, ‘You can’t ask that question,’” he told reporters.
“I wish I had been able to do more for Anita Hill,” Biden told Teen Vogue in 2017. “I owe her an apology.”
But apparently, that apology has never materialized.
“He said he apologized, but he hasn’t apologized to me,” Hill said last year. “The statute of limitations has run on an apology. I don’t need an apology.”
Saying “my hands were tied” isn’t a great way to ask for forgiveness, whether Hill wants it or not. But what’s worse is that it isn’t true: there’s no question that Biden could have done things differently, and better. As long as this is his story, there’s no reason for us to give him the benefit of the doubt.