Former Vice President Joe Biden apologized to Anita Hill Friday for not stopping senators from grilling her during hearings he held on Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court confirmation, though he stopped short for saying sorry over his own actions.
Defending his intentions at the time, Biden also urged current senators to learn from how Hill was treated in 1991 as they consider how they might question Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
"Anita Hill was vilified, when she came forward, by a lot of my colleagues, character assassination," Biden said on the "Today" show. "I wish I could have done more to prevent those questions and the way they asked them."
He continued, "I hope my colleagues learned from that. She deserves to be treated with dignity. It takes enormous courage for a woman to come forward, under the bright lights of millions of people watching, and relive something that happened to her."
Biden was head of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Hill came forward to accuse Thomas of sexual harassment, something Thomas denied on his way to being confirmed as a justice. Hill faced withering scrutiny as senators peppered her with questions, including whether she made up the accusations.
It led to a backlash the following year, dubbed "The Year of the Woman," when more new women were elected to Congress than ever before. Biden has received criticism for allowing the intense cross-examination and for not calling other witnesses who might have supported Hill.
Biden has offered apologies to Hill before about how he let the hearing unfold, but never directly said sorry for his own conduct.
He said in November that he was "so sorry that she had to go through what she went through." The next month, he said in an interview, "I owe her an apology," when asked about Hill after she told The Washington Post that she didn't think he'd taken ownership of how the hearings went.
Hill joked to Elle magazine this week that she's been waiting for Biden to follow through on that apology he owes her, but said "there are more important things to me now than hearing an apology."
Asked Friday on what he would tell Hill now, Biden insisted he had supported her, apologizing for how he ran the committee.
"I'm sorry I couldn't have stopped the kind of attacks that came to you. But I never attacked her, I supported her. I believed her from the beginning and I voted against Clarence Thomas," he said.
Biden also said he supports Ford's call for an FBI investigation into her allegation against Kavanaugh, which he has denied. Biden noted that Hill's claims were investigated ahead of her hearing and said there shouldn't be a vote without it.
"What the devil have we learned here?" Biden said, noting that the public's perceptions about accusations of sexual misconduct have changed since the Hill hearings
It's not yet clear whether Ford will come before the Senate Judiciary Committee under similar circumstances to Hill — negotiations are underway for a hearing that could come as soon as Monday — but she has the backing of Biden and Hill, who suggested this week ways the committee could better run Ford's hearing.
And many Republicans on the committee today, while resisting Ford's call for an FBI investigation, have said they intend to treat Ford with respect if and when she testifies.