Joe Biden Reaches Out To Anita Hill
Before he started his campaign for President, former Vice-President Biden reached out to Anita Hill to apologize for his conduct during the confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas in 1991.
One of former Vice-President Biden’s first acts as a Presidential candidate addressed one of the most controversial aspects of his political career, the manner in which he handled the allegations against Justice Clarence Thomas by Law Professor Anita Hill:
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. called Anita Hill earlier this month to express his regret over “what she endured” testifying against Justice Clarence Thomas at the 1991 Supreme Court hearings that put a spotlight on sexual harassment of women, according to a spokeswoman for Mr. Biden.
But Ms. Hill, in an interview Wednesday, said she left the conversation feeling deeply unsatisfied and declined to characterize his words to her as an apology. She said she is not convinced that Mr. Biden truly accepts the harm he caused her and other women who suffered sexual harassment and gender violence.
“I cannot be satisfied by simply saying I’m sorry for what happened to you. I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose,” she said.
She said she cannot support Mr. Biden, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 oversaw the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, until he takes responsibility for what he did and is also troubled by the recent accusations of improper touching.
“The focus on apology to me is one thing,” she said. “But he needs to give an apology to the other women and to the American public because we know now how deeply disappointed Americans around the country were about what they saw. And not just women. There are women and men now who have just really lost confidence in our government to respond to the problem of gender violence.”
Mr. Biden’s outreach to Ms. Hill, a law professor, was an attempt to defuse one of his most glaring vulnerabilities as he begins his presidential bid.
“They had a private discussion where he shared with her directly his regret for what she endured and his admiration for everything she has done to change the culture around sexual harassment in this country,” said Kate Bedingfield, the deputy campaign manager for Mr. Biden, who declared his presidential candidacy on Thursday.
Mr. Biden has long cast the hearings in passive terms, as something that happened to Ms. Hill, not something he and others did to her. Ms. Hill has said in the past that Mr. Biden has never directly apologized for his actions.
While the Thomas-Hill hearings are nearly thirty years in the past at this point, they became something of a new controversy with the rise of the “MeToo” movement and the rising number of women who have come forward to allege sexual harassment, or worse, in the workplace and other professional environments. In the case of people such as Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, this has included allegations that stretch back decades to an era where inappropriate conduct by men toward women was unfortunately commonplace and typically dismissed by other men, and some women, as just an example of boys being boys. As James Joyner noted earlier this month here and here, the former Vice-President himself has been the subject of somewhat similar allegations of inappropriate behavior by women, including Lucy Flores, who was a candidate for Lt. Governor of Nevada, and other women who had until last month largely remained silent about what some have called improper touching by the former Vice-President.
In the case of Anita Hill, the Me Too movement has brought renewed focus on the allegations that she made against Justice Thomas and the manner in which she was treated by the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who were all men. Many women have said that the manner in which Biden and other members of the committee acted toward Hill was demeaning and intimidating and meant to cast doubt on the veracity of her allegations even though she was speaking out against the nominee of a President from the opposing party. During the hearings, for example, it is alleged that Hill and the witnesses supporting her were cross-examined even by Committee Democrats in a manner that suggested hostility toward her and that, as Chairman of the committee, Biden deliberately prevented witnesses who alleged could have corroborated parts of Hill’s allegations from testifying publicly. Because of this, the Hill allegations have been receiving renewed attention as Biden has drawn closer to a Presidential run. Now that he is officially a candidate, the issue is coming to the fore once again.
The Anita Hill controversy isn’t the only issue from Biden’s time as a Senator that he will likely be forced to address as the campaign unfolds. Much as Hillary Clinton was in 2016, Biden is liable to be asked about his support for the Violent Crime Control And Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a bill that was passed in advance of the 1994 elections when Democrats controlled the White House, House, and Senate and which people like Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton enthusiastically supported. While the bill was popular at the time it has come to be seen, especially in Democratic and minority circles, as a bill that has had an adverse impact on African-Americans notwithstanding the fact that there has been a measurable drop in crime nationwide in the wake of its adoption. Many people have criticized the bill for things such as the “three strikes” rule and mandatory minimum sentences that have appeared to be discriminatory, especially in the area of drug crimes where sentences for possession of crack cocaine were far harsher than powdered cocaine and the impact this had on minority Defendants who received harsher sentences.
The reaction the Biden’s attempt to reach out to Professor Hill will be interesting to gauge and her response to it will be an important part of how parts of the Democratic Party view the matter and the extent to which Biden’s opponents bring the issue up themselves. However, it seems likely that the fact that he is a front-runner in the race means that the former Vice-President will not be able to deal with these issues by means of a simple phone call to Professor Hill. Reporters will no doubt ask the candidate and those running against him about it in the days and weeks to come. Because of that, Biden will need to address these issues even further as the campaign goes on.