Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have, from the beginning, recalled the contentious 1991 confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas amid similar allegations of misconduct by Anita Hill. Now the Senate Judiciary Committee chair during the Hill-Thomas saga is wading into the conversation.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, permanently surrounded by 2020 White House speculation, offered an apology of sorts to Hill, who was widely smeared by the media after her harassment allegations against Thomas, one of her former managers.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t have stopped the kind of attacks that came to you,” Biden told NBC’s Today on Friday. “But I never attacked her, I supported her. I believed her from the beginning.”
Biden actually said in December that he owed Hill an apology. He still hadn’t called her to make one a month later, but continued to say he should have done a better job of protecting her from the partisan smear campaign she faced for accusing Thomas. As Vox’s Anna North recently wrote:
Hill had to face testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that she was an “erotomaniac” and lies about her in the press. The American Spectator called her “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.”
Race also became a factor in the hearings, with Thomas calling them “a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks,” as Victoria M. Massie noted for Vox in 2016. Meanwhile, Hill has asked, “how do you think certain people would have reacted if I had come forward and been white, blond-haired and blue-eyed?” Thomas was confirmed and sits on the Court to this day.
Biden repeated on Friday that he should have done more to defend Hill.
“Anita Hill was vilified when she came forward by a lot of my colleagues, character assassination. I wish I could’ve done more to prevent those questions, the way they asked them,” he told NBC. “It takes enormous courage for a woman to come forward.”
As HuffPost’s Amanda Terkel documented last year, Biden was criticized by women’s groups for failing to call additional witnesses (three women in particular who were ready to speak on Hill’s behalf) and for giving in to pressure from Republicans and allowing Thomas to testify to the committee both before and after Hill. Hill has said she felt betrayed by the way Biden handled her testimony.
You cannot help but read Biden’s apology in the context of 2020 and his assumed interest in running for president, an interest Biden has done plenty to fan. The Democratic Party has become defined by women’s enthusiasm: There are more women running for office in 2018 than ever before, and women’s disfavor toward President Trump could be a big factor in Democrats’ strategy in the next two elections.
Biden, a 75-year-old white man who played his part poorly all those years ago, surely knows he’ll need to atone for his conduct during the Hill hearings. Democratic women certainly seem to think so.
From Politico, which published a retrospective on Biden’s role in the Hill hearings on Friday:
Toi Hutchinson, president of the National Association of State Legislators and an Illinois Democratic state senator who helped launch a statewide #MeToo awareness effort, said Biden will face a tough road with the 2020 electorate if he doesn’t address the Hill hearings straight on.
“He in particular is going to have to find a way to connect to women voters and say, ‘This is what we have learned [since Biden’s time as Judiciary chairman]’, said Hutchinson, who wasn’t yet born when Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972. “It’s not going to be something he can charm out of. I think in 2018, you can’t just smile it away. I think what [Biden] does best is when he goes straight up the middle, takes it on directly. I don’t think there’s any other way. It offers an opportunity to look people square in the eye and take on this issue directly. And I think women in this country will respond to his directness.”
“It certainly was not his best moment,” said former Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.), one of seven Democratic women who dramatically marched to the room where Senate Democrats were caucusing in 1991 in an attempt to make their case for why the vote on Thomas should be delayed as a result of Hill’s accusations. “To have railroaded that through and not listened to the other three women and let his colleagues absolutely tear her apart was absolutely horrible.”
Biden also told NBC that an FBI investigation should be allowed to proceed, as it did when Hill’s allegations against Thomas became public. Hill herself has said that Ford deserves “a fair and neutral” investigation.
“I have seen firsthand what happens when such a process is weaponized against an accuser,” she said.