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Former Vice President Joe Biden's 2020 presidential candidacy is barely a day old, but it is already ensnared in questions about how the Democratic candidate handled the 1991 sexual harassment accusations by law professor Anita Hill against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
Biden appeared on ABC's The View Friday morning and told the show's five female co-hosts: "I'm sorry for the way she got treated." But then he added that people should go back and look at what he said during those hearings, asserting, "I don't think I treated her badly."
The View, Biden's first live television interview since joining the race, was a mostly friendly format. He described the hosts as "friends" and they reacted positively to his entry into the presidential race.
But they, too, seemed to need more from him regarding Hill.
C0-host Ana Navarro, who worked for years as a GOP political strategist and analyst, asked why it took Biden until this year to call Hill. It was revealed Thursday in a New York Times interview with Hill that she and Biden had spoken privately in recent weeks.
Before that conversation it had been more than 27 years since the hearings. Biden explained that he didn't want to "invade her space."
Host Joy Behar said, "Here's your opportunity right now to just say you apologize, you're sorry. I think we can clean this up right now."
Biden responded, "I said privately what I said publicly, I am sorry she was treated the way she was treated."
"I cannot be satisfied by simply saying, 'I'm sorry for what happened to you,' " Hill told the Times. "I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose."
As a senator, Biden chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee that endured much criticism for not being sensitive or fair to Hill during her testimony. Hill herself has long made it clear that Biden had never apologized to her and that she still resented the way she was treated.
Biden's campaign characterized their recent conversation in a statement on Thursday:
"Vice President Biden has spoken with Anita Hill. They had a private discussion where he shared with her directly his regret for what she endured and his admiration for everything she has done to change the culture around sexual harassment in this country."
"I think what she wants you to say is, 'I'm sorry for how I treated you ... not 'for the way you were treated,' " Behar said to Biden, pressing further for a direct apology.
Biden insisted that he couldn't control what other members of the committee, which comprised all white men, asked the female African American law professor. He said that he also had to follow rules in chairing the proceedings.
Biden cited the recent hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which involved emotional testimony over an accusation of sexual assault: "We're all still looking for how do you change the process of the hearings."
Finally, the closest Biden came to an unqualified apology was when he said at the end of the discussion, "Look, there are a lot of mistakes made across the board, and for those I apologize."
Saying things could have been done better, Biden stressed that he believed Hill from the beginning.
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