California Rep. Katie Hill says she’s leaving Congress ‘because of a misogynistic culture’

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WASHINGTON — In a blistering, emotional final House speech, Rep. Katie Hill, a freshman Democrat from California, told colleagues Thursday that she is leaving Congress because of a double standard for female politicians, a ruthless political climate and a misogynistic culture that helped her estranged husband bring down her budding career.

“The forces of revenge by a bitter, jealous man, cyber exploitation and sexual shaming that target our gender, and a large segment of society that fears and hates powerful women, have combined to push a young woman out of power and say she doesn’t belong here,” Hill, 32, said during her final floor speech. She plans to resign Friday.

Her decision came following publication of nude photos of her and allegations that she had romantic relationships with congressional and campaign subordinates.

Hill said after her speech that when she informed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the weekend that she planned to step down, the speaker — who had become a mentor for the Hill — was surprised and urged her to stay and fight, at least for a while longer.

But Hill said the personal embarrassment, as well as a fear that her scandal would distract from Democrats’ other priorities, led her to decide to quit. She said she has barely left her bed since the pictures became public just over a week ago.

“I am 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, texts and calls that make me fear for my life and the lives of the people I care about.”

Hill apologized to her family, mentors and friends, and to the thousands of people who knocked on doors and made phone calls to get her elected.

“To every little girl who looked up to me — I hope that one day you can forgive me,” Hill said. “The mistakes I made and the people I’ve hurt that led to this moment will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

Hill acknowledged having a relationship with a campaign staffer but denies having had one with a congressional aide, which would be a violation of House rules. In a video statement Monday, she blamed her estranged husband and a campaign by “the right-wing media and Republican opponents” for using the pictures and false allegations to destroy her career.

Hill announced her resignation Sunday, just days after pledging she would fight. She said she learned over the weekend there were hundreds more private photos and text messages that might be released. It brings an end to the House Ethics Committee investigation into whether she had an affair with a member of her official staff, an act prohibited by a House rule approved after dozens of allegations of inappropriate behavior made against members of Congress and high-ranking staff members in the #MeToo era.

Hill has said that she plans a legal fight against those who distributed nude and compromising photos of her. The congresswoman blames her husband, Kenneth Heslep. They are in the process of divorcing. He has not responded to requests for comment.

Though involved in local politics, including a successful proposition campaign to change how Los Angeles County provides support to its homeless population, Hill had never held public office before being elected to Congress in the blue wave of young, mostly female and minority Democrats, who helped take control of the House in 2018.

Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters that the photos and Hill’s resignation should serve as a warning.

“This is something that I think could spring from this that could be a benefit. 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,” Pelosi told reporters.

News of the allegations was first raised by a strategist of Hill’s former opponent in the conservative publication RedState.

Hill’s abrupt resignation surprised Capitol Hill. In just 10 months, Hill had quickly risen to become one of the party’s most powerful freshmen, a frequent spokesman to national media with multiple positions in leadership and the ear of Pelosi.

“She is an absolutely outstanding young public servant. She made her decisions, and her timing, and I respect that,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday.

Hill gave her final House floor speech to a nearly empty chamber, with a smattering of tourists and three representatives. “I yield the balance of my time now, but not forever,” Hill said as she finished.

She has vowed to continue to work and speak against so-called revenge porn to ensure similar things don’t happen to other women, and said after her speech she is talking with various organizations about how best to do that.

Her fall comes less than a year after she was elected to Congress in a district long held by the GOP. Now Republicans see a chance to win back the seat, and a crowded field has already formed to replace her.

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