Rep. Katie Hill, the first-term Democratic congresswoman who resigned her House seat this week, delivered an impassioned farewell speech on Capitol Hill today, denouncing “gutter politics” and attributing her resignation to a double standard toward women.
Hill, who represented a suburban Los Angeles district, said she was resigning because of a harassment campaign that included the online publication of nude photos taken of her without her consent. Her last day is Friday.
Hill blamed the release of the pictures on Republican operatives and on her husband, Kenny Heslep, whom she is divorcing.
The pictures were published by conservative website RedState and The Daily Mail, and articles from both outlets were widely shared on social media. She said she had also faced a barrage of threatening messages.
“I’m leaving because of a misogynistic culture that gleefully consumed my naked pictures, capitalized on my sexuality and enabled my abusive ex to continue that abuse, this time with the entire country watching,” Hill said. “I am leaving because of the thousands of vile, threatening emails, calls and texts that made me fear for my life and the lives of the people that I care about.”
Hill, 32, said Sunday she would resign in the face of an ethics investigation into allegations that she had a sexual relationship with a member of her congressional staff, a violation of House rules that she had denied. The allegation was first reported by RedState and emerged as part of her divorce proceedings with Heslep.
The House Ethics Committee investigation into Hill makes her the first representative to be investigated under a rule passed last year amid the #MeToo movement that prohibited members of Congress from having sexual relationships with their staff members.
After years of complaints about male lawmakers engaging in sexual harassment, the first casualty of the new House rules is a woman.
To Hill’s critics — including Republicans who want to reclaim her seat in a relatively conservative district — she brought dishonor to her office. But the role of Hill’s husband and the release of her naked pictures has led her supporters to argue that she is a victim of “revenge porn,” the nonconsensual publication of sexual images.
Revenge porn is illegal in 40 states, including California, and Hill has said she referred the matter to law enforcement.
RedState separately reported that Hill, who is bisexual, was involved in a three-way relationship with her husband and a female campaign aide. Hill has acknowledged being in a relationship with the campaign aide, which is not covered by House rules.
“I will never shirk my responsibility for the sudden ending of my time here, but I have to say more because this is bigger than me,” Hill said in her speech. “I am leaving now because of a double standard. I am leaving because I no longer want to be used as a bargaining chip.
“I’m leaving because I didn’t want to be peddled by papers and blogs and websites, used by shameless operatives for the dirtiest gutter politics I’ve ever seen and the right-wing media to drive clicks and expand their audience by distributing intimate photographs of me taken without my knowledge — let alone my consent — for the sexual entertainment of millions,” she said.
Hill was seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party and a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Today, only a handful of first-term Democratic lawmakers listened to her speech in the otherwise empty House chamber.
When she finished, she embraced all of them: Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill.; Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., who represented the freshman class in leadership meetings with Hill; Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.; and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.
Pressley handed Hill a black T-shirt that read “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
Before Hill’s speech, Pelosi called her “an absolutely outstanding young public servant” but said she respected her decision to resign.
“I do say to my own children and grandchildren, especially grandchildren, some of these — I don’t know what — what do you call them, appearances on social media can come back to haunt you if they are taken out of context,” she said. “Regardless of any errors in judgment that anyone may have made, it’s shameful that she’s been exposed to public humiliation by way of cyber-exploitation.”
Hill defeated a Republican incumbent, Steve Knight, in November 2018, when Democrats swept the midterm elections, powered in part by a surge in female candidates and a deepening unease with President Donald Trump among suburban voters.
It will now be up to the California governor to call a special election to fill her seat, and the race to replace her has already grown crowded and unpredictable. George Papadopoulos, a former aide to Trump who served two weeks in prison for making false statements to the FBI, has filed paperwork signaling his intent to run.
When Hill arrived in Washington, Pelosi named her vice chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, a high-ranking position for a first-term representative. The panel has played a crucial role in the impeachment inquiry into Trump.
Hill said her final act as a member of Congress had been voting in favor of the president’s impeachment.
“Today, as my final act, I voted to move forward with the impeachment of Donald Trump on behalf of the women of the United States of America,” she said. “We will not stand down, we will not be broken, we will not be silenced. We will rise and we will make tomorrow better than today.”