Joe Biden regrets not giving Anita Hill the 'hearing she deserved' — and criticizes 'white male' culture

Joe Biden regrets not giving Anita Hill the 'hearing she deserved' — and criticizes 'white male' culture
Joe Biden/Shutterstock
Joe Biden/Shutterstock
Election '20

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is hinting at a possible 2020 run with some regularity, spoke about Anita Hill’s incredibly brave testimony on Tuesday night while at the Biden Courage Awards, an event held in New York which honors people who work to end sexual assault on college campuses. But is he taking enough responsibility? Let’s unpack what he actually said.

Biden, who oversaw the 1991 confirmation hearings for now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time), has come under intense scrutiny for the way he handled the hearings. The short version is: He handled it extremely poorly. And people (rightfully) haven’t forgotten.

On Tuesday night, the former vice president explicitly said he wished he “could have done something” to grant Anita Hill the “hearing she deserved.” As a reminder, Hill testified about her experiences being sexually harassed by Thomas. Thomas denied the allegations against him.

And the people she testified in front of? Fourteen white men.

“She faced a committee that didn’t fully understand what the hell this was all about. To this day, I regret I couldn’t come up with a way to get her the kind of hearing she deserved,” Biden said on Tuesday night.

For the record, Biden did not allow the other women who alleged Thomas had sexually harassed them to testify. Nor did he permit sexual harassment experts to submit affidavits. So you know, two major things he could have “come up with” to get her the appropriate hearing.

What he did do, however, was suggest that Hill “tell the committee what was the most embarrassing of all the incidents that you have alleged,” as though that wasn’t remotely traumatic or humiliating.

“We knew a lot less about the extent of harassment back then, over 30 years ago,” Biden continued. “But she paid a terrible price. She was abused through the hearing. She was taken advantage of. Her reputation was attacked. I wish I could have done something.”

In the era of #MeToo, a lot of people compare Hill’s experience to that of Christine Blasey Ford. The parallel is pretty obvious; both men denied allegations against them, both women faced impossible odds and much public criticism for telling their stories. But it’s important to remember that criticism against Biden isn’t being applied retroactively; advocates for survivors of sexual abuse and women’s groups were livid with Biden’s handling of the hearing even then. This isn’t a scenario of “no one knew better.”

Thomas was eventually confirmed by a vote of 52 to 48, which was almost (but not entirely) along party lines. Biden eventually voted against his confirmation.

Who has Biden not apologized to? According to Hill, she hasn’t heard from him since the hearings. Yes, since the ‘90s.

“It’s become sort of a running joke in the household when someone rings the doorbell and we’re not expecting company. ‘Oh,’ we say, ‘is that Joe Biden coming to apologize?'” Hill told Elle in an interview back in September. “There are more important things to me now than hearing an apology from Joe Biden. I’m okay with where I am.”

"We all have an obligation to do nothing less than change the culture in this country," Biden added on Tuesday. "A white man's culture, it's got to change. It's got to change."

Biden can make excuses all he wants, but actions speak louder than words.

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