With the premiere of HBO's Confirmation, Vice President Joe Biden's role as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings and Anita Hill's testimony against Thomas is coming into the spotlight in a major way. Greg Kinnear plays the former Senator in the film, but before you see his take, I've compiled some real quotes from Joe Biden about Clarence Thomas' confirmation and Anita Hill's testimony. These include statements he made outside of the hearings and what he has said about the events after the fact.
Biden has given a few interviews about the hearings for books and is generally credited as defending his role on the committee over the years. But the best way to understand someone's perspective on a situation is to hear their thoughts in their own words. So before you see the Thomas hearings portrayed in Confirmation this Saturday night, here are seven quotes from Vice President Biden that will help give you some insight to his view on the situation.
"If the polls are correct, 85 percent to 86 percent of the country knew who I was and had an opinion of me. That’s a highly unusual exposure for a senator."
Biden said this in an interview with Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer for their book Strange Justice. He also told Abramson and Mayer that his motivations may have been misplaced and Thomas may not have deserved the fairness and respect for privacy that Biden allotted him, but that he was trying to be a statesman.
“There was in fact a concern about whether or not to make the guy look stupid – what would happen if you embarrassed him.”
This is another quote from Strange Justice, which illustrates the pressure from all sides in this complicated case.
"It was the thing that no one wanted to touch. I remember saying to my colleagues, 'This is so much bigger than a single judge.' Because of the national debate on that issue, men may still do it … but it's a different place.''
Politico cites this recent quote from Biden, made at a rally in 2015 at Ohio State University specifically about the issue of sexual harassment in the Thomas hearings.
“There's a myth that's grown up that we somehow denied her. We had her in town to testify, we expected her to testify, we prepared her to testify; she chose not to testify. She had her own reasons. I don't know exactly what they were. And people say, 'Well, why didn't you have her testify, anyway?' Well, that's like calling a hostile witness in a case."
This is what Biden claimed about Angela Wright in an interview with Jules Witcover for his biography, also cited by Politico. In a statement to CNN, Biden's office referenced a portion of the hearings' transcript that includes a letter from Biden to Wright, in which he says that he would like for her to testify but there are time constraints. In 2007, Wright told NPR, "The only reason I didn’t testify is because I wasn’t called to testify. I was there for three days waiting with my attorneys for the judiciary committee to call me, and it was their decision."
"Some have asked 'how could you have the United States Senate vote on Judge Thomas' nomination and leave senators in the dark about Professor Hill's charges?'
To this I answer, how can you expect us to have forced Professor Hill against her will into the blinding light which you see here today? But I'm deeply sorry that our actions in this respect have been seen by many across this country as a sign this committee does not take the charge of sexual harassment seriously. We emphatically do. I hope we all learn from the events of the past week. As one person who has spent the past two years attempting to combat violence of all kinds against women through legislative efforts, I can assure you that I take the charge of sexual harassment seriously."
This is a statement Biden made during the Thomas confirmation hearings in 1991 in response to claims against his committee that Hill's allegations were not discussed prior to them being leaked to the press. He states that Professor Hill had previously requested that her allegations not only be investigated, but remain private. You can listen to the full statement in the video above.
"Sexual harassment is a serious matter and in my view, any person guilty of this offense is unsuited to serve not only on the nation's highest court but any position of responsibility, of higher responsibility in or out of government.
Sexual harassment of working women is an issue of national concern. But that said, let me make clear that this is not, I emphasize, this is not a hearing about the extent and nature of sexual harassment in America. That question is for a different sort of meeting of this, or any other, committee. This is a hearing convened for a specific purpose. To air specific allegations against one specific individual. Allegations which may be true or may not be true. Whichever may be the case, this hearing has not been convened to investigate the widespread problem, and it is indisputably widespread, the widespread problem of sexual harassment in this country."
The previous statement goes on, as Biden balances fairly progressive views on sexual harassment in the workplace for the time with a diplomatic approach to the hearings.
"Those watching these proceedings will see witnesses being sworn and testifying pursuant to a subpoena. But I want to emphasize that this is not a trial.
This is not a courtroom. At the end of our proceedings, there will be no formal verdict of guilt or innocence, nor any finding of civil liability. Because this is not a trial, the proceedings will not be conducted the way in which a sexual harassment trial would be handled in a court of law. For example, on the advice of the non-partisan senate legal counsel, the rules of evidence that apply in courtrooms will not apply here today."
This is how the statement ended, foreshadowing how the testimony would be handled.