For all of Biden’s working-class appeal, he still faces considerable obstacles—even within his own party. Back in 1991, he was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas. President George H.W. Bush had nominated Thomas to the Supreme Court, but as the hearings drew to a close, word leaked that a young law professor named Anita Hill had accused the nominee of sexual harassment.

Hill had made those accusations to committee staff on the condition of anonymity, but once her name got out, several Democratic congresswomen marched over to the Senate to confront the party’s leaders—including Biden, who presided over the hearings—about her allegations. In a moment that seems to have foreshadowed the post-Weinstein, #MeToo era, they demanded that Hill be allowed to testify. Biden insisted he had to keep his word to Thomas’s mentor, Senator John Danforth, a Missouri Republican, to not extend the hearings.

More than a quarter-century later, those congresswomen are still angry about what happened. “We went to see Biden because we were so frustrated by it,” former Representative Pat Schroeder of Colorado told The Washington Post this fall. “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 [Danforth] in the men’s gym that this would be a very quick hearing.”