White House hopeful Joe Biden called Anita Hill — the woman at the centre of emblematic sex harassment hearings three decades ago — to voice regret for “what she endured,” US media reported.
The former vice president, who launched into the 2020 race on Thursday, has long faced criticism over the aggressive questioning of Hill during the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas, which Biden chaired.
His phone call earlier this month appeared to be an attempt to defuse a key vulnerability for the Democratic candidate, who faces accusations of touching women inappropriately.
In a statement to several media, the Biden campaign said he and Ms. Hill “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.”
Ms. Hill, a law professor, confirmed the call to The New York Times but also said Mr. Biden stopped short of an apology, saying she was not convinced he accepts the harm she says he caused her and other harassment victims.
“I cannot be satisfied by simply saying I’m sorry for what happened to you. I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose,” she told the Times.
And she said she could not support Mr. Biden’s candidacy until he takes responsibility for his actions.
“The focus on apology to me is one thing,” she said. “But he needs to give an apology to the other women and to the American public because we know now how deeply disappointed Americans around the country were about what they saw,” she added.
Mr. Biden, whose campaign launch put him at the front of a crowded pack of candidates, had appeared to acknowledge his role in the hearings in a March speech to students in New York.
“To this day, I regret I couldn’t give her the kind of hearing she deserved,” Mr. Biden said.
“I wish I could have done something.” But Biden’s characterization of events have come under scrutiny, which some critics noting that as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he had command of the proceedings.