NEW YORK — As he nears the potential launch of a presidential campaign Joe Biden on Tuesday expressed fresh regret for his handling Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings, saying Anita Hill “was abused” as she tried to share her account of sexual assault before a panel of all-male lawmakers.
Biden used an event he hosted Tuesday — the “Biden Courage Awards” honoring young adults who stood up against assault on college campuses — to account for one of the most controversial moments of his career and a potential liability in the presidential race.
As the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, Biden presided over the Thomas confirmation process as it was roiled by the allegation from Hill that Thomas had harassed her when he was her supervisor at a federal agency. Biden said in sharing her account publicly, Hill “showed the courage of a lifetime.”
“She faced a committee that didn’t fully understand what the hell it 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 given the kind of courage she showed reaching out to us,” he said. “It took a lot of courage to damage her own career and her own reputation in the face of a cultural bias that if a woman was harassed or abused she must have done something to deserve it.”
Biden has addressed his handling of the hearing before. He told NBC’s Craig Melvin in September that he believed her account, and voted against Thomas, but couldn’t under the rules stop other senators from attacking her character. “Under the Senate rules I can't gavel you down and say you can't ask that question. Although I tried,” he said. “So, what happened was, she got victimized again during the process.”
Biden said Tuesday that the experience shaped his work on the Violence Against Women Act, but that there is still more work to do, noting how assault allegations impacted yet another recent Supreme Court nomination process, for now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“No one’s entitled to hold any public office. They have to make their case. The presumption should be if the woman comes forward she’s likely telling the truth,” he said.
He also called on the country to do more to hold officials accountable.
“Abuses of power have penetrated the highest levels of government,” he said. “If we don’t stand up to violence we give it more power. We give it a promotion."
"Silence is complicity.”