Joe Biden, who has weathered renewed criticism over his role overseeing Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony against Clarence Thomas, reached out to Hill earlier this month in an attempt to make amends as he geared up to launch his presidential campaign, according to the New York Times. But Hill, in an interview with the Times on Wednesday, said she did not believe Biden’s efforts reflected sincere regret and called for the former vice president to publicly apologize.
“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 in the interview.
Biden called Hill earlier this month to express “his regret for what she endured and his admiration for everything she has done to change the culture around sexual harassment in this country,” a Biden spokeswoman told the Times. Biden has long been criticized for his handling of the hearings and for allowing Republicans to smear her character on national television.
Hill told the Times that she had come away from the conversation unsatisfied, and she “declined to characterize his words to her as an apology,” according to the Times. She said she could not as a result support Biden until he claimed responsibility for the 1991 hearings and accepted the harm that came from it. She said she was also upset by the recent accusations of inappropriately familiar physical contact.
“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.”
During the 1991 confirmation hearings, Biden, then the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, allowed Hill to be interrogated and berated with irrelevant testimony from Thomas supporters but failed to call witnesses who could have supported Hill’s account of sexual harassment by the then-judge. Biden also has been criticized for ceding too much control to Senate Republicans, who were allowed to dictate certain elements of the hearing process, including by allowing Thomas to testify both before and after Hill.
While the hearings are now acknowledged to have played an important role in moving the country forward in its understanding of sexual harassment, Hill herself was subjected to what is now recognized (though not by everyone) to have been a deeply unfair beating in the process. In the national press, Thomas supporters, apart from attempting to deny that sexual harassment was a real problem, attacked Hill’s character. The American Spectator famously called her “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.”
Biden has regularly been criticized for his role in Thomas’ confirmation hearings. On Thursday morning, just as Biden formally announced his presidential candidacy, Anita Hill was trending as a topic on Twitter. The resentment held by many women over that hearing remains one of Biden’s largest potential campaign vulnerabilities.
Biden has expressed regret for Hill’s suffering during that hearing, but until recently he avoided acknowledging his own responsibility. At an event last month, Biden stopped just short of an apology. “To this day, I regret I couldn’t give her the kind of hearing she deserved,” he said. “I wish I could have done something.”
Support work like this for just $1
Slate is covering the stories that matter to you. Become a Slate Plus member to support our work. Your first month is only $1.