Former Vice President Joe Biden said Friday that he understood at the time of the Anita Hill hearing the gravity of women coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment or assault and the importance of how they are treated.
Biden has faced criticism for years over his handling of Hill's hearing. As Senate Judiciary Committee chairman in 1991, Biden presided over the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during which Hill alleged she faced sexual harassment by the then-nominee. The episode, which draws striking parallels to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation process in the midst of sexual assault allegations, looms over Biden as he considers a presidential run in 2020.
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"The woman should be given the benefit of the doubt and not be abused again by the system," Biden said in an interview with NBC Friday. "My biggest regret was, I didn't know how I could shut you off because you were a senator and you were attacking Anita Hill's character...She got victimized during the process."
"It seems like you get it now, versus in '91," NBC's Craig Melvin later said.
"Well I think I got it in '91," Biden responded, noting he drafted the Violence Against Women Act. "People have their own opinion."
Hill has long been critical of Biden's approach to the hearings and earlier this week, said she has yet to receive a direct apology from the former vice president.
"He owes all of us an apology," Hill told the Boston Globe. "He owes the country an apology because the affront was not just to me. It was really a disservice to every one of us — not just on behalf of sexual harassment victims but also on behalf of those people who believe in the integrity of the court and that it should be protected by the Senate, whose role is to advise on judicial nominations."
The Senate Judiciary Committee is negotiating the terms of a potential hearing with Professor Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of physically and sexually assaulting her at a party during their high school years. Kavanaugh has denied the allegations.
Biden said he thinks an FBI investigation into the allegations should be conducted and urged the committee to learn from the lessons of the Thomas hearings 27 years ago, stressing they should not engage in "character assassination."
"So much has changed about how the public understands the pressure on women. And I've learned a lot, as well too," he said. "She should not have to go through what Anita Hill went through and some of the questions that she got asked and the way the right went after her on national television and questioned her integrity and questioned her, not just her honesty, questioned her behavior."
"That's just not appropriate," he added. "You shouldn't have to be twice put through the same exact thing."