Congress

Rep. Katie Hill says ‘double standard’ forced her out of office

California Democrat is resigning after scandal involving explicit photos and affair allegations

California Rep. Katie Hill arrives Thursday at the Capitol, where she voted for the impeachment resolution and made her final floor speech, a day before she leaves office. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

California Democratic Rep. Katie Hill apologized for letting down her constituents, staff and loved ones as she made her final floor speech Thursday, but she also railed against a “double standard” and “misogynistic culture” that she said forced her out of office.

“I’m leaving, but we have men who have been credibly accused of intentional acts of sexual violence and remain in boardrooms, on the Supreme Court, in this very body, and, worst of all, in the Oval Office,” she said on the House floor the day before she leaves office. 

Hill did not refer to President Donald Trump by name but said she voted to approve rules for public impeachment proceedings in part because of his “abuse of power over women.”

She noted that her appearance on the House floor for Thursday’s votes and her final speech was the first time she had left her apartment since nude photos of her were posted online earlier this month. Hill said she was in a state of despair and “went to the darkest places that a mind can go.”

“I realized that hiding away and disappearing would be the one unforgivable sin,” she said.

Hill  is in the middle of a divorce from her husband, Kenneth Heslep, whom she has blamed for allegations of affairs and dissemination of explicit photos. She said she decided to resign following threats that more explicit photos of her could be released. She has also characterized the allegations as a smear campaign perpetuated by her political opponents.

Earlier this month, the conservative blog RedState published a story alleging that Hill and her husband entered into a relationship with one of her female campaign staffers, and that Hill had a separate affair with Graham Kelly, a campaign aide who went on to become her legislative director. Hill, who is openly bisexual, acknowledged she was involved with the female campaign aide, but has denied any relationship with Kelly. 

The House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into whether Hill was in a relationship with Kelly, since members of Congress are barred under chamber rules from engaging in a sexual relationship with staffers. The rule was added in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which forced several male congressmen from office. The ethics probe will end after Hill leaves Congress. 

“I’m leaving because there is only one investigation that deserves the attention of this country and that is the one that we voted on today,” she said.

Hill described the release of the explicit photos as “cyber exploitation” and “the dirtiest gutter politics I’ve ever seen.”

While Hill’s floor speech showed she was clearly torn over the decision to resign, she said she was not asked to step down, nor did she feel any pressure from her leadership to do so.

She told reporters after her speech that she informed Speaker Nancy D. Pelosi on Sunday that she would resign. Hill said Pelosi was surprised by her decision and asked Hill asked her to remain in Congress longer.

Pelsoi said Thursday morning that Hill’s decision to leave Congress was her own and called her fellow California Democrat “an absolutely outstanding public servant.”

Pelosi said she does caution her grandchildren and other young women that “appearances on social media can come back to haunt you.”

A handful of Hill’s Democratic colleagues were on the floor for her final speech, including her co-freshman class representative to leadership, Colorado’s Joe Neguse.

Illinois Rep. Lauren Underwood, Hill’s roommate, was also on the floor, along with Reps. Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Pressley gave Hill a t-shirt with the words, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." 

What's next for Hill?

Hill told reporters she plans to take a few weeks to figure out her next steps, but she has already started conversations about how she can combat so-called revenge porn and ensure other women don't face a similar situation.

“I'm already talking to a number of different organizations and planning on filing a lawsuit,” she said. Hill said she has also been talking to her colleagues about anti-revenge porn laws that can move on the federal level.

California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier, who has sponsored such legislation, told CQ Roll Call earlier this week that she planned to renew conversations with leadership and colleagues about her bill after what happened with Hill.

Hill indicated that she still plans to be involved in public life, ending her speech by saying, "I yield the balance of my time for now, but not forever."

Hill told reporters as she left the Capitol that she will “definitely” use the $1.5 million in her campaign account to help other Democrats.

“We’re working it out with what kind of expenses we’re going to need to wind down and whether it needs to be converted or when it needs to be converted into a multi-candidate PAC," she said. "But I’m not done fundraising and I’m not done helping other candidates.”

Hill's strong fundraising made her a formidable candidate. She was one of 43 Democrats who flipped Republican-held House seats in 2018, unseating Rep. Steve Knight by 9 points in the 25th District, which is north of Los Angeles and includes most of Simi Valley.

Her resignation will spark a special election for the 25th District, which Hillary Clinton carried by 7 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates race Likely Democratic

Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith has already jumped in the race, and the Republicans who were already challenging Hill, Navy veteran Mike Garcia and Lancaster City Council Member Angela Underwood Jacobs, are also planning to run in the special election. Knight is also considering a run, while George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide who served prison time for lying to the FBI, has also filed to run.

Hill said she will likely endorse in the special election "soon," but for now she was getting ready to leave the House.

As an emotional Hill walked away from a shorter than expected congressional career, she told reporters she has found comfort in a quote that her mother shared with her.

“If something goes wrong in your life, you have to stand up and say plot twist and move on,” Hill said, repeating the quote. “That’s kind of where I’m at."

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