Timing, even in resignations, is everything.
Rep. Katie Hill has announced she will resign from the House, but the timing of her exit will determine a range of next steps — including her staffers’ future plans, how her constituents will be served in her absence and even her final paycheck.
If the California Democrat stays on through the end of the month, she’ll receive her last congressional paycheck, in full, on Nov. 1. (That’s because members of Congress are paid for previous work done.) If she leaves before then, she’ll still be paid but will have to reimburse the Treasury for a day or two of October pay.
Hill’s district will go without a representative for a while, but it will still have access to constituent services. On the first business day after Hill’s resignation takes effect, her name will be removed from the office and it will be renamed the Office of the 25th Congressional District of California.
Constituents are entitled to services even though their representation in Congress has lapsed. Someone is supposed to answer when they call to ask for help or to voice their views on policy.
Under House rules, the Office of the Clerk “shall supervise the staff and manage the office of a Member … in the event that a vacancy is declared by the House in any congressional district.”
The clerk is authorized to terminate employees and, with the approval of the House Administration Committee, may appoint staff as required to operate the office until a successor is elected.
Hill’s staff can remain on the payroll of the House and continue working for the office and getting their paycheck until a successor is elected. This is intended to give staffers the flexibility to stay on and serve the district or to look for new opportunities when unexpected vacancies arise from resignations, like Hill’s, or when lawmakers die while in office.
Graham Kelly, a campaign staffer who became Hill’s legislative director, is unlikely to be pushed out under the clerk’s leadership of the office. Hill is accused by her husband, amid an acrimonious divorce, of having a relationship with Kelly. House disbursement reports show Kelly was paid $18,333 in the first quarter and $20,000 in the second quarter of 2019.
Hill has publicly and privately denied the allegation that she had such a relationship with Kelly and says she is the victim of a smear campaign. The alleged sexual relationship with Kelly was the impetus for the House Ethics Committee opening an investigation into Hill on Wednesday.
The root of the Ethics probe is a 2018 change to House rules implemented as power dynamics, harassment and professional conduct were under the microscope of the #MeToo movement. The rule change, approved by the House in February 2018, prohibits lawmakers from engaging in sexual relationships with anyone working in their congressional office or for any committees on which they serve. The rule is now part of the House Code of Conduct.
Hill is not the shortest-serving House lawmaker, but her nearly nine-month tenure does put her on the short end of congressional careers. The Office of the Historian of the House of Representatives doesn’t keep a tally of the shortest-serving members because there are several variables, including instances when someone was elected to a House seat but died or resigned before taking office.
In recent years, a few other members have had similarly shortened time in the House, including Florida Republican Trey Radel, who resigned a few days over one year into his term after pleading guilty to misdemeanor cocaine possession. Louisiana Republican Vance McAllister served about 13 and a half months, or roughly 415 days after winning a special election to serve out the term of GOP Rep. Rodney Alexander. He lost his bid for reelection in 2014 after video surfaced of him kissing a former staffer.
Louisiana Democrat Effingham Lawrence seems to be the shortest-serving lawmaker ever. He served in the House for just one day — March 3, 1875 — on the last day of the 43rd session of Congress.
Hill wasn’t close to meeting the required five-year tenure to be eligible for a congressional pension.
When her resignation does take effect, it will necessitate a special election in the next four or five months, under California state law. Gov. Gavin Newsom has 14 calendar days after the vacancy occurs to issue a proclamation for the special election to be held within 140 days.
Hill’s short time in Congress still qualifies her for a variety of privileges afforded to members. She’ll still be able to visit the House floor, eat in the Members’ Dining Room and get a permanent House of Representatives ID card from the clerk.
“Some [privileges] are derived from law and chamber rules, but others are courtesies that have been extended as a matter of custom,” according to a Congressional Research Service report on privileges and courtesies for former members.
She may want to stay far away from Washington, where her private life was aired publicly, but if she wishes to return she can utilize special parking and access CRS research.
Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.