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.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Joe Biden, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    I don’t quite get why he’s resurrecting this matter now.

    Sure, he’ll be attacked on it by other Democrats. So it could make sense to preempt such attacks. But this is too little, and waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too late, to even seem sincere. he looks like someone trying to defuse political attacks, rather than someone who’s genuinely sorry (though he just might be).

    Four years ago, it might have been less of an issue. I’m just saying. Truth to tell, while I recall the Anita Hill matter rather well, I had forgotten the Senators involved.

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kathy:
    Ham-fisted and not encouraging.

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  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    While technically active voice, the “what she endured” construction reminds me of the habit of police departments describing officer involved shootings in passive voice to avoid drawing attention to the officer’s actions

  4. Kari Q says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Every Biden presidential campaign in a nutshell.

    I think he’d make a pretty decent president, but he’s never risen above “pretty awful” as a candidate.

  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    Biden has never been able to come to terms with what his actions and behavior meant during the Thomas hearings. It is if he is apologizing not because he realizes that he committed a wrong, but that others are telling him he needs to apologize.

    From what I’ve read Ms. Hill is having none of it.

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  6. JKB says:

    That is a terrible headline given Joe Biden’s proclivity for getting handsy with women and girls.

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  7. Guarneri says:

    Its a shame Anita Hill’s allegations didn’t prevent Thomas from getting confirmed. As we all know, he’s been a serial sexual predator since arriving at the Court.

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  8. Tyrell says:

    What, more apologinizing? This seems late in the day for the Anita Hill issue.
    He addressed this a few weeks ago. I thought then he was trying to get all this out of them way before the campaign got going.
    Some people have forgotten about this. Others weren’t around back then.

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  9. An Interested Party says:

    That is a terrible headline given Joe Biden’s proclivity for getting handsy with women and girls.

    Good thing Joe Biden isn’t the only hope Democrats have of retaking the White House…

    Its a shame Anita Hill’s allegations didn’t prevent Thomas from getting confirmed. As we all know, he’s been a serial sexual predator since arriving at the Court.

    Just because he was a pig to her doesn’t mean he had to be so obvious once he got on the Supreme Court, a place where he’s certainly been no friend to women

    Here’s a sampling of Thomas’s votes impacting women. He voted to weaken women’s pay protections and to uphold a ban on so-called partial birth abortions. He voted to make it harder for a dining service worker — a woman and the department’s only African-American — to sue a supervisor for racial and physical harassment. He voted to uphold a for-profit company’s religious freedoms over women’s access to contraceptive coverage.

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  10. Guarneri says:

    @An Interested Party:

    So you agree with me that the Anita Hill allegations were just trumped up due to policy differences, and it was easier to just smear him rather than deal with the merits.

    I think there is a Justice Kavenaugh who understands. But Democrats will be Democrats.

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  11. An Interested Party says:

    So you agree with me that the Anita Hill allegations were just trumped up due to policy differences, and it was easier to just smear him rather than deal with the merits.

    What part of “he was a pig to her” are you failing to understand? Perhaps I could offer you a dictionary so you could look up the words…and since you’re not a woman, of course those court decisions were just “policy differences”…

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  12. Andy says:

    @Kathy:

    I don’t quite get why he’s resurrecting this matter now

    Yeah, of all the things to begin a campaign with….

  13. Teve says:
  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Guarneri:
    You’re sounding more and more like a man with a guilty conscience when it comes to women.

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  15. al Ameda says:

    Well, I hope this ends the (ill conceived) Biden Apology Tour.
    More evidence that on a national stage Biden is a clunky and awkward campaigner.

  16. charon says:

    @Teve:

    If you have read the NYT piece there is nothing added at Vanity Fair, they are just citing what is in the NYT piece.

  17. charon says:

    @charon:

    He does seem opportunistic checking off a box fix things up with Anita Hill. Where has he been since 1991 so now is when he says something?

  18. Teve says:

    @charon: thanks. I have not read the New York times piece. I have a subscription to Vanity Fair, so I can get all their stuff online, but I’m picky about what I use my New York Times monthly allowance on. 🙂

  19. Teve says:

    I just added Joe biden’s social media fundraising accounts to my social media block list, joining those of Beto, Warren, etc.

    I’m really not going to obsess about this shit every hour for the next 18 months. I would much prefer someone else get the nomination, but if Biden gets the Dem nomination, I will vote for him without fail. If the Democrats nominate Andrew Yang’s cat Mr. Snuggles, I’ll be voting Mr. Snuggles 2020.