Former Vice President Joe Biden, who launched his 2020 bid for the presidency on Thursday morning, reportedly recently had a conversation with Anita Hill. Hill, now an attorney and professor at Brandeis University, testified during Justice Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings in 1991 that he had sexually harassed her, and Biden, who then chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been criticised for his treatment of Hill at the time.
"They had a private discussion where he shared with her directly his regret for what she endured and his admiration for everything she has done to change the culture around sexual harassment in this country," Kate Bedingfield, Biden's deputy campaign manager, told the New York Times.
Biden called Hill earlier this month, said Bedingfield. Hill said she left the conversation "deeply unsatisfied." "I cannot be satisfied by simply saying, 'I'm sorry for what happened to you.' I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose," she told the NYT. She said she cannot support Biden until he fully takes responsibility for the harm he has caused her and other women who have experienced sexual harassment and gender violence. She also said she is troubled by the recent accusations of inappropriate conduct against Biden by multiple women.
"The focus on apology to me is one thing," Hill told the newspaper. "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."
Biden has said multiple times that he regrets his treatment of Hill. But advocates say that as the chair of the all-male, all-white Judiciary Committee, he could have done more to protect Hill from Republican attacks and humiliation, and that he could have structured the hearings in a more fair manner. He's also been criticised for not calling on more witnesses to corroborate Hill's account, although he has said several witnesses declined.
"I wish I could have done something — I opposed Clarence Thomas' nomination, and I voted against him," Biden said in March while speaking at the Courage Awards, hosted by the Biden Foundation and It's On Us, an organisation helping to stop sexual assault. "She faced a committee that didn't fully understand what the hell this was all about. To this day, I regret I couldn't come up with a way to get her the kind of hearing she deserved."
Last year, when Biden said he publicly apologised to Hill, she denied this claim. "The statute of limitations has run on an apology. I don't need an apology," Hill said during an event on sexual harassment at the University of Southern California. "But sometimes when the doorbell rings, and I am not expecting anyone, I think, Could that be Joe Biden?"
For many, especially women and people of colour, there are still questions left about Biden's conduct during the hearing. "I think people want an answer for what happened," Kelly Dittmar, PhD, an assistant political science professor at Rutgers University and scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics, told Vox. "Like, why weren't all the witnesses brought? Why didn't he step in to advocate more forcefully on behalf of Anita Hill?"