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Anita Hill cited again and again as Kavanaugh-Ford hearing opens

For days, pundits and the nation have drawn parallels between the Senate hearings involving Anita Hill's allegations of sexual assault against Clarence Thomas and the controversy now swirling around Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court. Even as Thursday's hearing opened — more than a quarter-century after Hill's accusations were met with skepticism on Capitol Hill — the Senate followed suit as it heard testimony from Christine Blasey Ford, a college professor who says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high school gathering in 1982. The judge denies that he ever assaulted anyone.

Christine Blasey Ford, left, and Anita Hill.
Christine Blasey Ford, left, and Anita Hill.Read moreAP

For days, pundits and the nation have drawn parallels — or sought to highlight the differences — between the 1991 testimony of Anita Hill against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and Christine Blasey Ford's claims that current nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982.

And as the Capitol Hill hearing on the allegations opened Thursday, senators didn't shy away from linking the two.

Senators cited the Hill hearing more than a half-dozen times — in ways to be expected.

Democrats said conditions for women, including Ford, had not improved in the halls of Congress since Hill's appearance. They called for the FBI to investigate Ford's claims, in keeping, they say, with protocol for the vetting of judicial nominations.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) reiterated why he and other Republicans say that's not necessary. Grassley pointed to comments by one of the Democrats' senior statesmen, former Vice President Joe Biden, who in 1991 was the committee chairman overseeing the Senate hearing where Hill testified.

"This is what Sen. Biden said," Grassley said. "Quote: 'The next person who refers to an FBI report as being worth anything obviously doesn't understand anything. FBI explicitly does not, in this case or any other case, reach a conclusion, period. They say, 'He said, she said, they said. Period.' "

Few Republicans on the committee other than Grassley spoke during the Ford hearing. The GOP-led committee brought in an Arizona sex-crimes prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, to question Ford on behalf of most Republican members. That move appeared designed to avoid the spectacle from 1991 of an all-male panel grilling a woman about misconduct allegations.

The committee's current ranking Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, suggested Republicans were treating Ford much the way Hill was treated a quarter-century ago, proof, she said, that the country's institutions have not made progress in the treatment of women and sexual assault victims.

"In 1991, Republicans belittled Professor Hill's experience, saying, and I quote, 'It won't make a bit of difference in the outcome,' end quote, and the burden of proof was on Professor Hill," she said.

Minutes later, two more senators — Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.)  — again revisited the Hill hearing.

"You and I were both here 27 years ago," Leahy told Grassley. "At that time, the Senate failed Anita Hill. I said I believed her. But I'm concerned that we're doing a lot less" for Ford as well as two other Kavanaugh accusers who have come forward in the past week.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.), added, "In 1991, during a similar hearing, one of my Republican colleagues in this committee stated: 'These claims were taken seriously by having the Federal Bureau of Investigation launch an inquiry to determine their validity.' That could have and should have been done here."

Kavanaugh, in his fiery and emotional statement, called the Senate's treatment of the allegations against him a "national disgrace." He did not mention Hill.

Late in the hearing, during Kavanaugh's questioning, the Hill hearing was again invoked.

"This is worse than Clarence Thomas. I didn't think it could get any worse than that," Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, said to the nominee. "This is a national disgrace, the way you're being treated."

Hill, a professor at Brandeis University, was not at the hearing. In recent days, she said it was unlikely the hearing would be fair to Ford.

Speaking to graduates at Rutgers-Camden this spring — about six weeks before Ford first shared her allegations against Kavanaugh — Hill hailed the impact of the #MeToo movement.

"We can never as a society ignore it and pretend it doesn't exist," she said then. "We can't be the same as we were before, and we certainly can't go backward when we know that so many people are hurting and suffering."