It’s been 26 years since Anita Hill made a historic appearance at the confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. At the time, Hill testified that Thomas had continuously sexually harassed her during her time as his employee. Former Vice President Joe Biden, then a senator, presided over the hearings and for a long time people have felt he didn’t do enough to support Hill.
Now, in the middle of the post-Weinstein reckoning, Biden says he wishes he had done more to support Hill during those crucial hearings.
“I believed Anita Hill. I voted against Clarence Thomas. And I insisted the next election — 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 judgement on this,” Biden said. “And 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. 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.”
He went on to explain that in retrospect, he wishes he had subpoenaed three other women who could testify about Thomas but were reluctant to do so.
“I wish I had been able to do more for Anita Hill,” he added. “I owe her an apology.”
This is not the first time that Biden has spoken up about what happened, and he has sort-of apologized. But that hasn’t been enough for Hill, who says he hasn’t owned up his role in the hearings and the aftermath.
“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,” Hill told The Washington Post in November. “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.”
It’s also worth pointing out that as the chairman of the committee, Biden could have done more since he had the power to do so: Critics say he could have called more witnesses to the stand and he could have pushed to stop the attacks against Hill, who was described as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty” and derided in many other ways.
Despite what happened then, it should be recognized that over the last 25 years Biden has championed women in some ways. For example, he authored the landmark Violence Against Women Act and lead the way for its four reauthorizations, and created It’s On Us, the initiative dedicated to curbing sexual assault on college campuses.