Thursday, April 25, 2019

Joe Biden Dogged by His Handling of Anita Hill's Allegations When He Was Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee During the Clarence Thomas Confirmation Hearings (VIDEO)

Joe Biden launched his White House bid today, and as I'm just getting online, I can't quite tell how well it's going just yet. That said, it looks like the Anita Hill fiasco of 1991, when Biden chaired the hearings for Clarence Thomas, could doom his candidacy.

At the New York Times, via Memeorandum, "Joe Biden Expresses Regret to Anita Hill, but She Says 'I'm Sorry' Is Not Enough."

And at the Los Angeles Times, from last week, "Joe Biden’s handling of Anita Hill’s harassment allegations clouds his presidential prospects":

As he moves toward formally entering the Democratic presidential race, Joe Biden has repeatedly expressed regret for how he handled one of the most consequential challenges of his career in the Senate — the 1991 hearings into Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

But he has not put the decades-old issue to rest.

Biden, who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, has rankled rather than reassured many critics by portraying himself as powerless to have conducted the hearing differently.

“To this day I regret I couldn’t come up with a way to get her the kind of hearing she deserved, given the courage she showed by reaching out to us,” Biden said, speaking of Hill at a charity event in New York in late March. “I wish I could’ve done something.”

His critics call that excuse flimsy, saying Biden has downplayed his considerable authority as the committee chairman.

“He could have done more,” said KimberlĂ© Crenshaw, a UCLA law professor who assisted Hill’s legal team in 1991. “That’s not an apology. An apology starts with a full acknowledgement of the wrong you have committed. If he wants the women’s vote, he’s got to do something more than symbolic stuff.”

A review of the record of the hearings 28 years ago shows how much Biden was a creature of a Senate that was clubby and male-dominated for much of his early career. The Hill-Thomas hearing was so long ago that the committee received one of the most volatile political documents of the decade — Hill’s affidavit outlining her claims — over a fax machine.

Biden’s handling of the hearings go beyond being just a single data point in his 36-year Senate voting record. The incident became a test of leadership in a climactic political event as Hill’s allegations blew up what were already high-stakes confirmation hearings. Thomas, a young black conservative, had been picked by President George H.W. Bush to replace Thurgood Marshall, the legendary civil rights lawyer and the court’s first African American justice.

Hill, then a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, alleged that Thomas harassed her by talking in sordid detail about sex and pornography while she she was an employee of his at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Thomas flatly denied the allegations.

The Senate was singularly ill equipped to deal with the subject at the time. It had no black and only two female members. The Judiciary Committee had none of either.

The hearings turned a spotlight on that glaring lack of diversity. The image of a young black woman sitting alone behind a witness table, telling an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee a lurid tale was televised across the country and the world. Never before had sexual harassment been discussed so explicitly on Capitol Hill.

“There was a real and perceived problem the committee faced,” Biden said at the March charity event. “They were a bunch of white guys.”

Biden had never shown much appetite for pressing nominees on issues related to their personal lives. Another committee leader, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, had been involved earlier in the year in a drunken Florida beach scene with a nephew who was accused of rape.

For about two weeks before the nomination came to a vote, Biden and a few staff members knew of the allegations but kept them out of public view because Hill requested anonymity.

Biden did not deem the allegations important enough to postpone the committee’s scheduled vote on Thomas’s nomination. When he announced his opposition to Thomas in a floor speech he said, “My view on this matter has nothing to do with Judge Thomas’ character. For he is a man of character.”

News of the allegations and Hill’s identity leaked only after the committee voted. At that point, Biden came under enormous pressure to investigate. Several House Democratic women — including Rep. Patricia Schroeder of Colorado — marched to the Senate to demand the hearings be reopened.

Schroeder said in an interview that, when she complained to Biden that the process was being rushed, his response was a window to the ways of the Senate. Biden told her, she said, that he had given his word to Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.), Thomas’s sponsor, while they were in the Senate’s all-male gym that it would be a “quick hearing.”

“Is that where the deals are all cut? Really?” said Schroeder. “That stuck in my craw. It was a boys club and the boys were not really wanting to yield.” Danforth, asked about Schroeder’s account, said he did not remember such a conversation with Biden.
More at that top link.


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