Jun 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Katie Hill cites duality in sex-scandal outcomes

Former Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) tells “Axios on HBO” she thinks her sex scandal was “politically survivable” and she's contemplating another run for Congress.

Why it matters: Hill cites a duality in outcomes for women and men. "Having seen other people who've had scandals since I left, [Andrew] Cuomo and, you know, of course, Matt Gaetz ... you see that and, of course, they don't resign," Hill said.

  • "You really wonder how much of it was the pressure I put on myself because I was a woman, and because I'd been an advocate for the #MeToo movement, and how much of it was sexism and ... the public shaming aspect of it, the revenge-porn aspect of it."

Driving the news: Hill resigned from Congress in October 2019 after admitting to a sexual relationship with a campaign staffer following a flurry of leaked nude photos.

While saying she is considering another campaign for office, she said it would “take a lot” for her to run in 2022. Hill said she's much happier out of Congress than in it.

Yes, but: Hill also admits that what she did — having a sexual relationship with a subordinate — was wrong.

  • She had previously danced around the question, given the relationship was consensual.
  • "Would I ever do it again? No, absolutely not. I let those boundaries blur, and that shouldn't have happened," Hill said. "Was it the right thing to do? No."

The big picture: Hill represents a new generation of young people, particularly young women, who've lived their lives online as they've come into power.

  • Asked if young people can have a past and still run for office, Hill calls it "the question of our time."
  • "If we want to have authentic politicians, if we want to have people who represent us that have real lived experience, and who haven't been kind of sculpted as part of a political family, my hope is that we choose people who are not fake but that are real and that might have had messy lives."
  • She's now working to help young women and women of color get elected through her political action committee, HER Time.

The backstory: Hill defeated Republican incumbent Rep. Steve Knight (R-Calif.) in the 2018 midterm race for California’s 25th District and immediately became a star in the 116th Congress.

  • She was endorsed by former President Obama and was described by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as someone in whom she saw a lot of herself.
  • Hill became a co-representative of the congressional freshman class and was appointed to serve on high-profile committees, including the House Oversight and Armed Services panels.
  • In October 2019, several outlets published nude photographs of Hill, which she first learned of through her staff, and claimed she had engaged in inappropriate sexual relationships with staffers.
  • Within roughly a week, Hill admitted to having a relationship with a former campaign staffer and resigned from Congress. She blamed the disclosures on her “abusive husband."

The latest: This month, Hill was ordered to pay over $200,000 in attorneys’ fees to the conservative outlets she sued for publishing her naked photos without her consent.

  • A Los Angeles judge determined Hill’s lawsuit failed to meet the requirements of the state's revenge-porn statute, and also asserted that the outlets were protected by the First Amendment, given Hill was an elected official and the photos were in the "public interest."
  • Hill told Axios she's still deciding whether to appeal the decision.
  • In the meantime, she's advocating for the passage of the SHIELD Act, which makes cyber exploitation a federal crime, and the Violence Against Women Act.
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