Former Vice President Joe Biden urged Americans to tackle a “white man’s culture” dating back centuries that has allowed violence against women to perpetuate.
Biden has long worked to prevent violence against women, but his comments are notable coming amid speculation that he is close to entering the 2020 Democratic presidential field, the most diverse in history.
“We all have an obligation to do nothing less than change the culture in this country,” Biden said at an event at the Russian Tea Room in New York City Tuesday night, which was hosted by the Biden Foundation and It’s On Us, honoring students who have worked to end sexual assault on college campuses. “This is English jurisprudential culture, a white man’s culture. It’s got to change.”
The former vice president also lamented his role in the 1991 confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, during which Anita Hill alleged she faced sexual harassment by Thomas. At the time, Biden was a Delaware senator who was chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee, and progressives have since criticized his handling of the hearings into her accusations, which ultimately did not derail Thomas’ ascension to the Supreme Court.
“We knew a lot less about the extent of harassment back then, over 30 years ago. She paid a terrible price. She was abused for the hearing. She was taken advantage of. Her reputation was attacked. I wish I could have done something,” Biden said Tuesday. “To this day, I regret I couldn’t come up with a way to get her the kind of hearing she deserved, given the courage she showed by reaching out to us.”
Biden noted there was a “real and perceived problem the committee faced. They were a bunch of white guys.” He added that when Hill, who is African-American, “came and testified, she faced a committee that didn’t fully understand what the hell it was all about.”
Biden’s statement drew some criticism on social media from progressives, who believe he could have done more in his role overseeing the hearings.
“It literally does not matter what else Biden says about sexual assault if he cannot acknowledge his own culpability in putting a sexual assaulter on the Supereme Court and then pretending for years like he was powerless to stop it. #BelieveSurvivors #IBelieveAnita,” Jess Morales Rocketto, political director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, tweeted.
Biden’s expression of regret comes as he nears a decision on whether he’ll mount a presidential bid for the third time. His handling of the Hill testimony is one of the many areas of Biden’s career that is set to come under fresh scrutiny, particularly in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Biden has long worked to address issues of domestic violence and sexual assault, writing the Violence Against Women Act and acting as a leading figure in the Obama administration’s It’s On Us initiative, which aims to end sexual assault on college campuses.