Former Vice President Joe Biden’s comments about Anita Hill in the wake of the #MeToo movement is the clearest sign yet that he is planning a 2020 presidential bid.
“I wish I had been able to do more for Anita Hill,” Biden told Teen Vogue this week. “I owe her an apology.”
Hill worked for then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas while they were both at the Department of Education. During Thomas’ confirmation hearings in 1991, Hill claimed that he sexually harassed her.
Her testimony to the Judiciary Committee, which Biden then chaired, grew into an ugly smear campaign by Republicans to discredit her.
Biden has long come under criticism that he did not do enough to defend Hill against the Republicans’ attacks. As CNN’s Chris Cillizza notes, “the optics of a committee of all white men questioning Hill, who is African-American, also aged poorly.”
But more than 25 years later, as the #MeToo movement continues to grow and cost powerful men their long-secure positions, Biden knew that the Anita Hill issue could balloon into a full-fledged scandal for him. So he’s trying to get ahead of it.
It wasn’t an accident that Teen Vogue asked Biden about Anita Hill. He brought her up last month when he was asked about the Thomas hearings.
“What I do feel badly about is the bad taste that got left in the mouth of some of the people around Anita Hill, and maybe even Anita, about whether or not the witnesses should have been called who were called and weren’t called,” he said.
That is not an accident. Biden, a 75-year-old white man, understands how the treatment of Hill was perceived by many women and, in light of the cultural movement around women speaking out about harassment, he is working to clear up any sort of misunderstanding or hurt feelings around it. He is clearing the decks, purging his past of anything that could be seized on by, say, a future political opponent.
A future political opponent like, say, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has emerged as the leading voice of the #metoo movement on Capitol Hill. Gillibrand was the first senator to call for Sen. Al Franken’s resignation in the wake of a series of allegations from women that he groped and forcibly kissed them. And she is very much looking at running for president in 2020.
And Biden appears to be too.
“If I were offered the nomination by the Lord Almighty right now, today, I would say no because we’re not ready, the family’s not ready to do this,” he said. “If, in a year from now, if we’re ready, and nobody has moved in that I think can do it, then I may very well do it.”
He similarly said on the “Today” show last month, “Who knows what the situation is going to be in a year and a half? I don’t have any idea. I’m in good health now, I’m in good shape … but I just don’t know. Honest to God, that’s the truth.”
Though Biden is 75, he has universal name recognition, decades of experience, and two previous presidential bids under his belt. According to a way-too-early poll released last month, Biden would defeat Trump by 11 points if the election were held today.