Joe Biden Declines to Directly Apologize to Anita Hill for His Handling of 1991 Hearing

In his first sit-down interview of his presidential campaign, Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Friday repeatedly declined to directly apologize to Anita Hill for his handling of the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings, instead delivering a broad statement of remorse for how she was treated during the combative questioning she faced from an all-male Senate committee that he led.

Appearing on ABC’s “The View,” which is heavily watched by women, Mr. Biden was asked by one of its hosts, Joy Behar, about his reluctance in recent months to offer a straightforward apology to Ms. Hill for his own judgment and leadership during the hearings. Ms. Behar suggested that Mr. Biden should say, “I’m sorry for the way I treated you, not for the way you were treated.”

“I’m sorry for the way she got treated,” Mr. Biden responded. “If you go back to what I said, and didn’t say, I don’t think I treated her badly.”

[Read our analysis of Mr. Biden’s appearance on “The View”]

The former vice president also declined to pledge that he would serve only one term if elected president, spoke about his relationship with former President Barack Obama, and addressed his past treatment of women who have said his touching and his conduct made them uncomfortable.

The appearance on “The View” came after a Biden spokeswoman said the former vice president had called Ms. Hill a few weeks ago and expressed “his regret for what she endured” 28 years ago. At that time Mr. Biden, who was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, presided over confirmation hearings in which Ms. Hill accused Justice Thomas, President George Bush’s nominee to the Supreme Court, of sexual harassment and faced aggressive and misogynistic questioning. Ms. Hill has said she was deeply unsatisfied by the phone call.

On Friday, Mr. Biden spoke largely in passive voice about how Ms. Hill was treated, despite the fact that he led the Senate committee when she testified before it.

Describing their phone call, he said, “I said privately what I’ve said publicly. I’m sorry she was treated the way she was treated. I wish we could have figured out a better way to get this done. I did everything in my power to do what I thought was within the rules to be able to stop things.”

“I don’t know why it took you so long to call her,” Ana Navarro, another host, said. “I wish it had happened earlier.”

“Since I had publicly apologized for the way she was treated,” Mr. Biden said, “I didn’t want to, quote, invade her space,” by calling her privately.

Mr. Biden largely sidestepped a question about how a Biden presidency would differ from the Obama administration, only saying that the two men disagreed on the “implementation” and “timing of some things.” He said that he had asked Mr. Obama not to endorse him in the 2020 race because “I didn’t want it to look like he was putting his thumb on the scale here.”

Asked if he would apologize to the women who have complained that he touched them inappropriately over the years, Mr. Biden responded, “Here’s the deal: I have to be much more aware of the private space of men and women — it’s not just women, but primarily women.”

Pressed further by the hosts, he said: “I’m really sorry if what I did in talking to them, trying to console, that in fact they took it a different way.” He then addressed the women directly, saying, “Sorry I invaded your space,” though he said he did not do anything to make anyone uncomfortable intentionally.

In a lengthy telephone interview earlier this week, Ms. Hill told The Times that the call from Mr. Biden had left her feeling deeply unsatisfied. She declined to characterize Mr. Biden’s words to her as an apology and said she was not convinced that he has taken full responsibility for his conduct at the hearings.

“I cannot be satisfied by simply saying, ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you,’” said Ms. Hill, now a professor of social policy, law and women’s studies at Brandeis University. “I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose.”

“The focus on apology, to me, is one thing,” Ms. Hill added. “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.”

The Biden campaign said Thursday that it would have no comment beyond its initial statement about the call.

Mr. Biden 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,” said the deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield.

“The View” is the first of only a handful of appearances and events that the Biden campaign has announced. He is set to deliver remarks on Monday in Pittsburgh about “an inclusive middle class” and then campaign Tuesday and Wednesday in Iowa.

At one point during the interview, Mr. Biden wiped away a tear when he was asked whether he was running because of his son Beau, who died of cancer in 2015 at 46. “He’s not why I’m running, but I hope as I’ve — this sounds stupid,” Mr. Biden said, pausing to collect himself. “When I get up in the morning, I think about — I hope he’s proud of me. I hope he’s proud.”

Mr. Biden, whose first wife and young daughter died in a car crash in 1972, also spoke about how grief had shaped his life. “It’s given me an incredible sense — I wish I didn’t possess it — of empathy, understanding,” he said.

“How many of you have lost someone to cancer? Raise your hand,” he said. He spoke to the members of the audience, saying that while many well-wishers don’t know what someone has endured, it was deeply meaningful for a person to say, “I’ve been through what you’ve been through.”

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