Joe Biden on handling of Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas hearings: 'I take responsibility'

Biden sat down with Robin Roberts before his first campaign event in Pittsburgh.

April 29, 2019, 3:45 PM

Former Vice President and 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden said he takes “responsibility” for Anita Hill’s treatment when she testified before the Senate Judiciary committee during Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearing.

“I believed her from the very beginning, but I was chairman. She did not get a fair hearing. She did not get treated well. That's my responsibility,” Biden told “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts during an interview on Monday which will fully air on Tuesday. “As the committee chairman, I take responsibility that she did not get treated well. I take responsibility for that.”

Jill and Joe Biden speak with ABC News' Robin Roberts, April 29, 2019.
ABC News

Biden also said he issued an apology to Hill.

“I apologized for it,” the former vice president said ahead of his first event as a 2020 presidential candidate at a union hall in Pittsburgh on Monday. “I apologize again because, look, here's the deal. She just did not get treated fair across the board. The system did not work.”

The full interview with former Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden will air on "Good Morning America" Tuesday morning.

Biden went further than he has in previous interviews on the way Hill was treated when she testified that Thomas sexually harassed her, including on Friday during an appearance on ABC’s “The View” when he said he didn’t believe he personally treated Hill badly.

"If you go back and look what I said and didn't say, I don't think I treated her badly. I took on her opposition,” Biden told the co-hosts. Before his appearance on “The View,” his first television interview since formally entering the 2020 race, a spokesperson for Biden said that he called Hill and 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."

Hill told the New York Times Thursday that the discussion didn’t go far enough.

"I cannot be satisfied by simply saying, ‘I'm sorry for what happened to you,'" Hill said.

Anita Hill is sworn-in before testifying at the Senate Judiciary hearing on the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination.
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images, FILE

Biden acknowledged his missteps in his handling of Thomas' confirmation hearing when Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Biden headed from 1987 to 1995.

“I said privately what I've said publicly. I am sorry she was treated the way she was treated,” Biden said on Friday. “I wish we could have figured out a better way to get this thing done. I did everything in my power to do what I thought was within the rules to be able to stop things.”

The hearing, which riveted the nation in 1991, was a pivotal moment in Biden's Senate career and continues to be a hurdle for the former Delaware senator as he mounts his third presidential bid.

He chaired the committee at the time, and now faces renewed criticism for the treatment of Hill -- then a young African-American law professor who worked for Thomas -- when she was grilled by an all-white, all-male dais about her interactions with him in intimate and searing detail.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Biden holds up a copy of the FBI report on Anita Hill during committee hearings on Capital Hill about her allegations against Judge Clarence Thomas.
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images, FILE

Biden voted against Thomas, but the Senate nonetheless confirmed the then-nominee.

Biden said Hill deserves credit for helping to advance conversations about equality for women and being a catalyst for the Me Too movement, which has shed light on the issue of sexual harassment and assault and its pervasiveness across a variety of industries.

“When we got through that God-awful experience she'd been through – she's one of the reasons why we have the Me Too movement,” he said Friday.

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