Former Vice President Joe Biden says he owes Anita Hill an apology for not doing more for her during confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Biden chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee when Hill testified there in 1991. Hill said she was sexually harassed by Thomas while he was her supervisor at the Department of Education. Thomas denied the allegations, calling the questioning during the hearing a “high-tech lynching.”
In a new interview with Teen Vogue, Biden said he believed Hill, and that he owes her an apology. He said that following criticism over the all-white, all-male committee roster, he campaigned for two female 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 judgment on this.”
“And my one regret is that I wasn’t able to tone down the attacks on her by some of my Republican friends,” Biden said. “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.”
Biden added that if he could do it again, he would have gone forward with a subpoena for three women, whom he had sign affidavits saying they wouldn’t testify.
“The reason I didn’t, I was worried they would come and not corroborate what she said and make — I mean, Clarence Thomas only won by two votes. And we still thought we had a chance at beating him.”
Regardless, Biden told Teen Vogue, “I wish I had been able to do more for Anita Hill,” adding, “I owe her an apology.”
The comments come amid increased public attention and scrutiny of sexual harassment through the #MeToo social media movement.
Biden, who drafted the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and helped launch the “It’s on Us” campaign to end college sexual assault while still in the White House, was criticized for the questioning he permitted during the 1991 hearing.
“You testified this morning that the most embarrassing question involved — this is not too bad — women’s large breasts,” Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, said during one part of the hearing. “That is a word we use all the time. That was the most embarrassing aspect of what Judge Thomas had said to you.”
Specter added that he could not understand how a lawyer like Hill had not taken notes about her encounters with Thomas.
And Biden himself was the subject of scrutiny when he asked about an interaction with Thomas: “Were you uncomfortable, were you embarrassed, did it not concern you?”
In November, Biden gave an audience in New York a statement similar to the one he offered Teen Vogue. However, he didn’t offer a full apology.
“The message I’ve delivered before is I am so sorry if she believes that,” he said then. “I am so sorry that she had to go through what she went through.”
When asked about Biden’s comments in New York, Hill told the Washington Post, “He said, ‘I am sorry if she felt she didn’t get a fair hearing.’ That’s sort of an ‘I’m sorry if you were offended.’ … But I still don’t think it takes ownership of his role in what happened.”