The hosts of ABC’s “The View” gave former vice president Joe Biden several opportunities Friday to personally apologize for his role in how Anita Hill was treated during the 1991 Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearing, but he argued there was little he could have done to change how the proceedings unfolded.
Biden, who chaired the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee when Hill testified about her allegations of sexual harassment against Thomas, said he “did everything in [his] power to do what I thought was within the rules to be able to stop things,” referring to Republican attacks on Hill.
“I am sorry she was treated the way she was treated,” Biden said as a guest on the morning talk show. “I wish we could have figured out a better way to get this thing done.”
Biden has been criticized for three decades for failing to use his powers as a committee chairman to conduct a judicious and thorough inquiry into Hill’s allegations. A new investigation by The Washington Post reinforced that Biden did not give full consideration to witnesses whose allegations seemed to corroborate her testimony or curb the attacks and innuendo leveled at her during the hearing.
Friday’s appearance was Biden’s first interview since declaring himself a candidate in the 2020 presidential race, and it demonstrated the level of questioning he can expect as his campaign goes forward.
Biden called Hill a few weeks ago to express regrets about her treatment in 1991, but it was a conversation Hill later told the New York Times was not satisfying.
Asked by a “View” host why it took him 28 years to make that call, he said he did not want to invade her space and that he had, over the years, publicly apologized to her for what she endured.
Pressed again on whether he would personally apologize, he said he did not treat her badly.
“I think what she wants you to say is, ‘I’m sorry for the way I treated you,’ not for the way you were treated,” host Joy Behar said.
“Well, well, but I’m sorry for the way she got treated,” he repeated. “I don’t think I treated her badly, I took on her opposition.”
He said the problem was that he did not know how to stop others on the panel from asking “inflammatory questions.”
Biden was also asked why he did not summon other women whose testimony would have supported Hill’s. Referring to a woman he subpoenaed but never called to speak, Biden said she did not want to testify. He suggested he was concerned the woman would not answer senators’ questions and that this would undermine Hill.
Biden was talking about Angela Wright, a woman who made claims about Thomas’s behavior that were similar to Hill’s. (Thomas denied all claims of sexual harassment.) Wright saw it as Biden’s choice whether to solicit her testimony given that she was already under subpoena.
A similar dynamic played out on the show during a conversation about Biden’s physical style, which has made some women uncomfortable. The show’s hosts wanted to know if he was sorry for his actions.
“I have to be, and everybody has to be, much more aware of the private space of men and women,” he said. “I am much more cognizant of that.”
When he did not offer a direct apology to the women who have said he made them feel uncomfortable, Behar pressed, “Nancy Pelosi wants you to say, ‘I’m sorry I invaded your space.’”
“I’m sorry I invaded your space,” he repeated.
But then he qualified it.
“I mean, I’m sorry this happened,” he said. “But I’m not sorry in the sense that I think I did anything that was intentionally designed to do anything wrong or be inappropriate.”