Power  /  Oral History

Anita Hill and Her 1991 Congressional Defenders to Joe Biden: You Were Part of the Problem

Hill revisits the infamous Clarence Thomas hearings with five of the congressional women who supported her.

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On Friday, Oct. 11, Thomas testified first, followed by Hill. Thomas testified again that evening and the following day. Schroeder and Slaughter attended in person. The morning of Oct. 11, they were not sure whether Hill would testify and felt the process was being rushed. They spoke to Biden.

Schroeder: We went to see Biden, because we were so frustrated by it. And he literally kind of pointed his finger and said, you don't understand how important one's word was in the Senate, that he had given his word to [Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.), Thomas's chief sponsor] in the men's gym that this would be a very quick hearing, and he had to get it out before Columbus Day.

Slaughter: We had a serious discussion that this had to happen.

Schroeder: It was really, really ugly.

Danforth did not return messages seeking comment. According to Mikulski, the venue for Biden and Danforth's apparent agreement — the gym — played a notable role in the life of the Senate.

Mikulski: Remember what gym you are talking about. You are talking about the United States Senate gym.

Casey: Right.

Mikulski: There are two women there. [Kansas Republican Nancy] Kassebaum and — do I look like a gym rat to you? [laughter] So the whole point of that is that's where they do a lot of their conversations. I never — I went to the gym once to look around. I felt like they were taking me to a gulag or something.

Casey: It wasn't your place to hang out.

Mikulski: That's the negative part. The other part is that's where they often do the bipartisan stuff.

Casey: Okay, there can be some benefit there.

At the hearing, Hill sat alone at a table in front of a long row of white male senators.

Hill: Even if somebody had been sitting at the table with me, nobody could speak but me, and the chairman was not controlling what was going on. So it was worse than being put on trial, because in a trial you've got legal protections. In the hearing, there was none of that.

Casey [to the lawmakers]: Did you attend the hearing?

Lowey: I found for me that is the memory I had that I will never forget, sitting there and looking at the faces of the men questioning. They were just blank faces I found.

Casey: Were you surprised by the lack of Democrats on the panel providing that voice you were hoping for?

Schroeder: Yes, we were. Absolutely. I mean we were just stunned at our [makes air quotes] liberals that were on the Judiciary Committee.

Slaughter: I remember Alan Simpson talking about all that stuff coming across the transom in his office, some awful things about Anita.