There are a lot of advantages that come from being the highest-ranking Democrat to run for president. But former vice president Joe Biden enters the 2020 presidential race Thursday with a potential major pitfall: his record with women.
Seven women are accusing him of touching that made them uncomfortable; there is reporting that he launched his campaign amid friction with some of the emerging, female power brokers in the Democratic Party; and he is the person behind the Anita Hill hearings in the ’90s, which when framed in the light of the #MeToo era, look even more out of touch than they appeared to be in the moment.
When given the chance to apologize or explain some of his actions, Biden has recently stumbled. None of this is to say that Biden cannot deftly navigate or overcome these potential pitfalls. But in 2020, there are more layers of Biden’s record with women for voters to consider than there were in his past two presidential campaigns.
The Cut, which published an essay by his original accuser, Nevada lieutenant governor nominee Lucy Flores, is keeping a running list of his accusers, which is a Google search away for anyone who cares to look it up. The accusers range from Flores, who says Biden came up behind her and kissed the back of her head, to D.J. Hill, who said he rested his hand on her shoulder, then started to move it down her lower back.
Biden tried to address their concerns by saying he takes them seriously, but he didn't apologize. Then he made a joke about it the first time he was out in public. The message Biden seemed to broadcast, I wrote: These women are making a big deal out of nothing.
Biden hasn’t made jokes about the matter since then. (Which is notable for such a gaffe-prone politician who also doesn’t think he did anything wrong.) But his most high-profile accuser, Flores, hasn’t faded away. She has given regular media interviews about Biden and is a presence on social media and in liberal Democratic circles.
Then, on Wednesday, CNN reported that Biden was warned away from announcing that he is running for president on the same day as a prominent presidential forum for women of color.
That forum, She The People, was held Wednesday, and a number of top presidential candidates attended, meaning that issues about women of color were covered by the national news. It appears — but CNN did not confirm — that Biden was considering releasing his announcement video on that day, to the dismay of organizers who feared he would overshadow them.
That a white man who is the definition of the Democratic establishment would consider taking headlines away from a constituency that does not regularly get much, if any, national attention, frustrated people involved with the forum, according to CNN's reporting.
His alleged struggles there recall a much more serious part of Biden’s history that haunts him to this day: his role as the lawmaker in charge of the 1991 Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings. Biden chaired the Senate committee that was moving to confirm Thomas to the Supreme Court. His committee heard from Hill, who testified that Thomas sexually harassed her. But the rules were set up to intimidate and even discourage Hill, and she faced tough questioning by the all-white, male committee — questioning that can only be described today as sexism.
Biden tried to vanquish the Anita Hill ghost when he gave a speech in March saying he regretted his part in the process. But the only line that echoes from that speech is this: “I wish I could have done something.” Again, Biden was in charge of the entire committee.
Biden wasn’t even at that She The People forum, but an attendee showed up wearing a shirt that read “I still believe Anita Hill.”
“Speaking for myself,” said Jamila Taylor, “I think it was mishandled.”
On the eve of Biden’s entrance into the race, The Post’s Philip Bump analyzed polling data from Monmouth University of Democratic voters and found that Biden’s support is heavily male — men choose him by seven points more than women do right now.
Biden has strengths that could help him overcome some of these potential questions about his past. He has made great efforts to portray himself as an opponent of sexual violence, for example. And even if Biden doesn’t directly address these issues, will Democratic voters — overwhelmingly focused on the best candidate to beat President Trump — prioritize them?
But Biden’s third presidential campaign, in a Democratic field that is wide open, carries with it more baggage than ever related to one of the party’s key constituencies: women.