Biden and his team seemed to understand that they would have to explain and atone for the way Hill was treated, in light of the #MeToo movement and the lingering Democratic outrage over the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. But he’s struggled to take responsibility for his role.
A few weeks before entering the race, Biden phoned Hill. According to the New York Times, the former vice president expressed “regret for what she endured” 30 years ago.
For Hill, now a law professor at Brandeis University, it was not enough. “I cannot be satisfied by simply saying, ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you,'" she told the paper. “I will be satisfied when I know that there is real change and real accountability and real purpose.”
It’s not clear that Biden got the message. In his first interview after announcing his run, Biden said on “The View” that he “did everything in my power to do what I thought was within the rules to be able to stop things,” referring to attacks from GOP lawmakers aimed at Hill.
“I am sorry she was treated the way she was treated,” he said. “I wish we could have figured out a better way to get this thing done.”
Biden’s passive-voice apology didn’t seem to soothe critics. “I’m sorry she was treated the way she was” is quite different from “I apologize for what I did.”
On Tuesday, Biden seemed to recognize that. In a “Good Morning America” interview, Biden took ownership of Hill’s treatment during the hearing.
“I believed her from the very beginning, but I was chairman," he said. “She did not get a fair hearing. She did not get treated well. That’s my responsibility. As the committee chairman, I take responsibility that she did not get treated well. I take responsibility for that.”
“I apologized for it. I apologize again because, look, here’s the deal," he continued. “She just did not get treated fair across the board. The system did not work.”
It’s not clear how much of an impact Biden’s behavior on this front will have. According to The Washington Post-ABC News poll, a majority of Democrats are undecided about whom to support. Among the 46 percent who named a candidate, Biden received the most support. Thirteen percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters said he was their candidate. That number jumped to 17 percent when respondents were asked which candidate they “lean toward.” Support for Biden has grown four percentage points since January.
Biden seems to be about equally popular among men and women, receiving 18 percent support among men and 16 percent among women. (A CNN poll conducted after Biden announced his candidacy last week found even firmer support. Nearly 40 percent of respondents said he was their top choice, an 11-point bounce from last month.)
Christina Reynolds, spokeswoman for Emily’s List, a nonprofit that helps elect Democratic women, said it’s hard to know whether the Anita Hill hearing issue will affect his standing with women. For some female voters — particularly those who prioritize pushing President Trump out of office — the apologies may be enough. Others may have follow-up questions about why Biden treated Hill as he did, what he’s learned, and why he waited nearly 30 years to reach out.
Biden’s approach “shows the importance of women voters. And in a Democratic primary, women voters are incredibly important and I do think that focusing on what women voters think and what women voters want is something I think every campaign is going to have to grapple with,” Reynolds said. “But particularly campaigns of candidates that have been around for a while and have a record they have to answer for, which is something I think we’re seeing with this Anita Hill issue.”
Lucy Flores, a former Nevada state assemblywoman who says she had an uncomfortable encounter with the vice president in 2014, framed Biden’s comments as a win for the #MeToo movement. She wrote in the New York Times Monday:
“What we can learn from the #MeToo movement is that when we demand accountability and work together to actually change culture by changing behaviors and attitudes, we collectively usher in real transformation.”
At the very least, it’s clear this issue isn’t going away for Biden. Unless he can get better at answering questions about his past — and offering clear solutions for the future — he’s going to continue to confront these big issues in his campaign.