Nearly three decades ago, a young black law professor named Anita Hill testified about the inappropriate conduct of Justice Clarence Thomas before the Judiciary Committee, which was composed entirely of white men. These hearings, led by then-Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.), delved into “excruciatingly graphic detail,” as per the New York Times, about the sexual harassment Hill experienced and left many disturbed by how the witness was treated by the hostile panel of men.
Now that survivors of sexual assault and harassment are being taken more seriously, Biden is attempting to ensure that his poor handling of the Thomas confirmation hearings does not affect his 2020 bid. The former VP set up a phone call through an intermediary to talk to Hill about the matter.
The NYT reports:
On Thursday, the first day of his presidential campaign, the Biden camp disclosed the call, saying the former vice president had shared with Ms. Hill “his regret for what she endured” 28 years ago, when, as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he presided over the confirmation hearings in which she accused Clarence Thomas, President George Bush’s nominee to the Supreme Court, of sexual harassment.
But Ms. Hill says the call from Mr. Biden left her feeling deeply unsatisfied.
In a lengthy telephone interview on Wednesday, she declined to characterize Mr. Biden’s words to her as an apology and said she was not convinced that he has taken full responsibility for his conduct at the hearings—or for the harm he caused other victims of sexual harassment and gender violence.
Hill told the NYT that she sees Biden’s treatment of her as a precursor to Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation this last fall, in which Christine Blasey Ford accused the now-Supreme Court Justice of sexual assault. Hill is also unsettled by the fact that multiple women have come forward saying that Biden had crossed physical boundaries with them.
Hill further explained her dissatisfaction with Biden’s phone call:
The focus on apology, to me, is one thing. 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.
Let’s face it—Biden’s words feel like too little, too late. Calling with a non-apology (expressing regret is not the same thing as saying sorry) does not cause an actual reckoning in the handling of sexual misconduct cases. Hill, who works as a professor of social policy, law and women’s studies at Brandeis University, stated, “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 hasn’t completely written him off, though, saying, “I’m really open to people changing.”
Her support comes with the caveat that Biden take responsibility for his mishandling of the hearing, primarily for his failure to call corroborating witnesses to testify before the Judiciary Committee. Multiple women came forward willing to back up Hill, citing their own uncomfortable interactions with Thomas. However, this did not happen, putting undue pressure on Hill.
In the years since, Biden has claimed that these witnesses either changed their minds about coming forward or were hesitant to testify in the first place. To Hill, there is “no evidence” that Biden’s assertions are true, but if they are, she says that the witnesses “saw a flawed process where they weren’t going to be heard and they might end up being destroyed.”
Hill hopes that sexual harassment and gender-based violence are issues that will come to the fore in Democratic candidates’ campaigns. Considering that Donald “No Boundaries” Trump is in the Oval Office, Hill says that whoever represents the Democratic Party needs to show more respect towards women and survivors of sexual assault than our current commander-in-chief.
When asked if Biden could be that individual, Hill responded, “I don’t know. I’m willing to give him the chance. And I hope he will step up.”
Another question worth asking—would Biden have ever apologized to Hill if he wasn’t running for president?