The hosts of ABC’s “The View” were looking – and asking, repeatedly – for an apology from Joe Biden.
But the former vice president deflected them at almost every turn, offering qualified regrets over his handling of Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony and more recent allegations from women who said Biden made them feel awkward or uncomfortable.
In his first interview since launching a third presidential campaign a day ago, Biden began by talking with the popular daytime show’s all-woman panel about his relationship with former president Barack Obama – “very close” – and President Donald Trump’s early insults, which he laughed off. The conversation, though, quickly shifted to old and newer controversies surrounding Biden himself.
Asked about the women who have come forward recently to say they felt he had invaded their personal space, Biden nodded to their concerns, saying, “I have to be, and everybody has to be, much more aware of the private space of men and women. It’s not just women, but primarily women. And I am much more cognizant of that.”
When co-host Sunny Hostin noted that the women have asked for him to say sorry, Biden seemed intent to side-step an outright apology.
“I’m really sorry if in talking to them, in trying to console, that in fact they took it a different way,” Biden said. “And it’s my responsibility to make sure that I bend over backwards to try and understand how not to do that.”
Given a third opportunity, Biden again demurred. “I’m sorry this happened,” he said, “but I’m not sorry in the sense that I think I did something that was intentionally designed to do anything wrong or be inappropriate. It was inappropriate that I didn’t understand.”
Biden and the hosts had a similar exchange over his handling of the 1991 confirmation hearings of then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Biden was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Anita Hill came forward to accuse Thomas of sexual harassment. During her subsequent testimony, she was subject to intense and probing questions from an all-male, all-white panel of senators.
The grim spectacle, over which Biden presided, has echoed for decades and is widely regarded as a turning point – at Hill’s personal expense – in the conversation around sexual harassment in the work place.
Biden recently called Hill to discuss them, his campaign revealed on Thursday. Hill told the New York Times that she would not describe Biden’s comments to her as an apology.
Given another chance on Friday, Biden said he was “grateful” that Hill took his call and regretted how her testimony unfolded, saying “there were a lot of mistakes made across the board. For that, I apologize.”
“I’m not going to judge whether or not (the call) was appropriate, that she thought it was sufficient,” Biden told the panel, “but I said (to Hill) 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 thing done. I did everything in my power to do what I thought was within the rules to be able to stop things.”
Asked why he waited so many years to reach out to Hill directly, Biden said that after he had “publicly apologized for the way she was treated” and “publicly gave her credit for the contributions (she) made to change this culture,” he worried how a call would be received.
“I didn’t want to, quote, ‘invade her space,’” Biden said. But after reading about Hill’s desire to hear an apology and consulting with “leading women advocates in this area,” Biden chose to reach out.
At that, Ana Navarro, a political commentator on the panel, suggested that Hill wanted a more fulsome and direct apology from Biden – “I think she wants you to say I’m sorry for the way I treated you, not the way you were treated,” Navarro said.
“I’m sorry the way she got treated,” Biden replied, distancing himself from the more antagonistic Republican senators on the committee and wider Republican effort at the time to discredit Hill. “I never heard – if you go back and look at what I said and I didn’t say, I don’t think I treated her badly. I took on her opposition. What I couldn’t figure out how to do – and we still haven’t figured it out – how do you stop people from asking inflammatory questions? How do you stop the character assassinations?”
Biden was greeted warmly by the show’s panel. As he took the stage, he was introduced as “the legendary Joe Biden” and then spoke glowingly and length about his relationship with Obama, describing them as “very close personal friends.” But Biden said he did not ask for his old boss’s endorsement because, as he put it, “I didn’t want it to look like he was putting his thumb on the scale.”
The 76-year-old also ruled out any kind of pledge to serve a single term, calling his age a “legitimate question,” then adding he hoped to “demonstrate that with age comes wisdom and experience.”
Biden also made light of Trump’s recent attacks and name-calling. The President frequently refers to Biden as “Sleepy Joe” and, on Thursday morning, described himself, at age 72, as “a young, vibrant man.”
“If he looks young and vibrant compared to me, I should probably go home,” Biden said. “Look, everybody knows who Donald Trump is. The best way to judge me is to watch. See if I have the energy and the capacity.”
Presidential politics, he added, are “a show-me business.”
CNN’s Caroline Kelly contributed to this report