Anita Hill, the law professor whose landmark testimony against now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is credited with transforming Americans’ understanding of sexual harassment, said Thursday that she is unsatisfied with Joe Biden’s apology to her.
The interview she gave to The New York Times was published the same day Biden announced his candidacy for the 2020 presidential nomination. In it, Hill says a phone call Biden made to her earlier this month did not address the consequences of how he handled her Senate Judiciary Committee testimony in 1991.
“I cannot be satisfied by simply saying I’m sorry for what happened to you,” she said. “I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose.”
Biden was serving as the committee chairman when Hill came forward with allegations that then-Supreme Court nominee Thomas had sexually harassed her at two different jobs. Biden has long faced criticism for mishandling how Hill’s testimony was presented to the senators before they ultimately voted to confirm Thomas, who denied all of her allegations.
“The focus on apology to me is one thing,” she continued. “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.”
Specifically, Biden is blamed for not shielding Hill from Republican attacks during the hearing and for the way he structured the hearing. Notably, he allowed Thomas to testify before and after Hill, and he did not call upon three female witnesses who could have bolstered Hill’s testimony with accounts of their own experiences with Thomas.
The issue has cast a cloud over the former vice president’s political future for years and has only grown more damning as women have come forward in recent weeks to say he’d inappropriately touched them in the past.
Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), the first African American member of Congress from the state, endorsed Biden on Thursday. She said she took him at his word that he wished he could have done things differently back in 1991 and said she wanted voters to give him a chance to earn their vote.
“What I have seen over the course of the years, and as a result of that hearing, [is that he] has been introspective about it, has tried to actually dedicate his life to ensuring that issues like domestic violence, equal pay, issues even regarding the representation on the Judiciary Committee, are at the forefront,” she told HuffPost on Thursday.
Indeed, since those hearings, Biden has gained widespread respect from women’s rights organizations ― many of whom opposed him during the Thomas confirmation battle. During his time as vice president, he made fighting sexual assault against women a centerpiece of his agenda.
But Biden has repeatedly stumbled when talking about Hill’s experience. He has long expressed regret over the hearings, but he has never directly put the blame on himself ― acting more as if it was something that had happened to Hill that was a bit out of his control.
“He said, ‘I am sorry if she felt she didn’t get a fair hearing,’” Hill said in a Washington Post interview in November 2017 after Biden made a public statement about the hearing and emphasized that he did not vote to confirm Thomas. “That’s sort of an ‘I’m sorry if you were offended.’”
This article has been updated with comments from Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester.