Timeline: A history of the Joe Biden-Anita Hill controversy

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Joe Biden’s presidential campaign launch is putting a new spotlight on the former vice president’s handling of Anita Hill’s 1991 Senate testimony about alleged sexual harassment from then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

Here’s a look back at a controversy that has hung over the country for three decades and will be a big part of the story surrounding Biden — now the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

1991: The explosive hearing

Biden’s handling of the explosive hearing before a panel of white men has long been a subject of criticism.

{mosads}The then-Senate Judiciary Committee chairman allowed Thomas to testify before Hill — after initially saying Hill would get to testify first.

He did not take testimony from three women who offered their own stories about Thomas.

Hill claimed that Thomas had repeatedly asked her to go out with him and would not respect her rejections. Additionally, she said he would talk about sex and pornography in vivid detail during workplace conversations.

Republican members of the panel sought to discredit her testimony, and Biden was criticized for not doing more to defend Hill. One member, former Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), said discussing “large breasts” in the workplace was common.

Race also hung over the hearing, which involved an African American woman making allegations against Thomas, an African American man nominated to succeed Justice Thurgood Marshall, the only black member of the court. 

Thomas was eventually confirmed by a 52-48 vote in the Senate. Biden did not vote in favor of his confirmation.

1992: Harassment complaints rise, women win office

The Thomas-Hill hearings were watched by the country and put workplace sexual harassment under the microscope.

The next year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission logged a record 9,920 harassment complaints, a 50 percent increase over the previous year.

A then-record number of women were elected to serve in Congress in the 1992 election, with four women elected to the Senate and 24 to the House.

Eight months after the hearings, Biden told The Washington Post that he worried he had not “attacked the attackers” of Hill “more frequently and consistently.”

However, he said he couldn’t have acted differently toward Thomas without violating “the basic values embodied in our constitutional system.”

“That’s what makes me mad about the Republicans,” Biden said in the June 1992 interview.

“What they do is they put you in a position on so many matters of principle that in order to fight with them and have a chance of winning, you have to either have the ability to go right above the issue, or you’ve got to do it the way they do it and disregard the rules,” he added.

1994: Biden helps win passage of Violence Against Women Act

The landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), co-sponsored by Biden and first proposed in 1990, passed in 1994 as part of the senator’s crime bill.

The legislation authorized government funding for social service agencies to aid victims of sexual violence, including rape crisis centers, shelters and legal assistance programs.

Joseph Pika, a professor emeritus at the University of Delaware, said Biden was likely motivated to push it through at least in part by the Hill hearing.

“He very self-consciously tried to shore up his support from women voters after the Anita Hill episode,” Pika told USA Today in 2008.

1997: Hill criticizes Biden

In Anita Hill’s biography, “Speaking Truth To Power,” she criticized Biden’s role in the hearings, suggesting he inappropriately weighted Thomas’s presumed innocence and forced her to go into details that “disgusted” her.

“The senators’ tendency toward ad hoc rulemaking weighed in heavily against fairness,” she wrote.

2007: Biden’s biography skips Hill

Biden released a biography called “Promises To Keep” ahead of his 2008 presidential run that did not mention Hill or Thomas’s confirmation.

Biden also authored and introduced the International Violence Against Women Act, which would have expanded many protections of VAWA internationally and called for support of United Nations projects to combat violence against women and girls.

2008: Biden says others were to blame

During the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, Biden suggested in a CNN interview that other parties were to blame for any mistakes in how the Hill hearing was handled.

“The president insisted it be opened. Not me. The Clarence Thomas’ people insisted it be opened,” Biden said in September. “What I would do all over again, I think that should have been conducted in a way under the Senate rules where the witness should have been able to do this in private.”

2010: Thomas’s wife asks Hill for an apology

In a moment that highlighted how the hearings shadowed public life, Virginia Thomas, the Supreme Court justice’s wife, called Hill at her office at Brandeis University to ask for an apology.

“Good morning, Anita Hill. It’s Ginni Thomas,” the voicemail said. “I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.”

Thomas’s call deeply angered supporters of Hill, who found it galling that decades later her story was attracting doubts.

2013: ‘Anita’ premieres at Sundance

A documentary about the hearings, “Anita,” directed by Academy Award winner Freida Mock, got a high-profile premiere at Sundance.

{mossecondads}A spokesperson for Biden told The New York Times at the time that the then-vice president “continues to wish nothing but the best for Anita Hill.”

2016: HBO releases ‘Confirmation’

New generations continue to learn about the Thomas-Hill hearings, which are the subject of the HBO film “Confirmation,” starring Kerry Washington and Wendell Pierce. Greg Kinnear plays Biden.

Hill told Time in an interview about the movie that she had not spoken to Biden since the hearings and that she continued to believe the process was not fair.

2017: ‘Me Too’ movement brings new attention

The “Me Too” movement brought new attention to public treatment of sexual assault and harassment allegations.

“Let’s get something straight here. I believed Anita Hill. I voted against Clarence Thomas,” Biden said in November, adding that he was “confident” that Thomas had sexually harassed Hill.

“He said, ‘I am sorry if she felt she didn’t get a fair hearing.’ That’s sort of an ‘I’m sorry if you were offended,'” Hill told The Washington Post later that week.

Biden then spoke to Teen Vogue in December 2017 and reemphasized that he “believed” Hill and that he regretted not stopping “the attacks on her by some of my Republican friends.”

“And I insisted the next election — I campaigned for two women senators on the condition that if they won they would come on the Judiciary Committee, so there would never be again all men making a judgment on this,” Biden said.

Biden also released his second book, “Promise Me, Dad” in November, which did not mention Hill or Thomas’s confirmation.

2018: Kavanaugh hearings echo Hill-Thomas

In the fall of 2018, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was accused by several women, including Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, of sexual misconduct.

Kavanaugh, who denied all the allegations, was eventually confirmed by a razor-thin margin after Ford testified in front of the Senate in testimony that has been compared to that of Hill.

In September 2018, Hill wrote an op-ed in The New York Times urging senators to handle the allegations better this time around.

She told Elle in an interview that “there are more important things to me now than hearing an apology from Joe Biden.”

The former vice president, who by this time was already being floated as a 2020 favorite, told NBC’s “Today” show that Ford “should not have to go through what Anita Hill went through” if she chose to testify.

“My biggest regret was I didn’t know how I could shut you off if you were a senator and you were attacking Anita Hill’s character,” he continued. “Under the Senate rules. I can’t gavel you down and say you can’t ask that question, although I tried.”

Early 2019: Biden calls Hill

In the run-up to Biden’s official campaign launch, the former vice president called Hill directly to express regret for how she was treated during the hearing.

Hill said she wouldn’t describe his comments as an apology.

“I cannot be satisfied by simply saying ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you,'” Hill said to The New York Times. “I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose.”

April 2019: Biden sorry for how Hill was treated

Biden told ABC’s “The View” that he didn’t think he treated Hill “badly.”

“I’m sorry for the way she got treated,” Biden said. “Look at what I said and didn’t say; I don’t think I treated her badly.”

“I believed Dr. Hill. I believed what she was saying,” he added. “There were a lot of mistakes made across the board, and for those I apologize. We could have conducted it better, but I believed Dr. Hill from the beginning, and I said it.”

Biden again blamed Republicans on the committee for turning the hearing into a spectacle.

On “Good Morning America” the following week, Biden said he took “responsibility” for her mistreatment.

“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 said.

“As the committee chairman, I take responsibility that she did not get treated well. I take responsibility for that,” he added.

May 2019: Biden defended

One of the other women who accused Thomas of harassment in 1991 but was not called as a witness at the confirmation hearings wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post defending Biden’s past role in light of his presidential bid.

She wrote that as chairman “Biden performed poorly” but added that she believes “we have more pressing issues than whether Biden has sufficiently apologized for what did or did not happen almost three decades ago.”

“Biden is not a #MeToo villain,” she added.

Biden’s campaign did not comment for this article.

Tags Anita Hill Brett Kavanaugh Donald Trump Joe Biden

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