‘Scrutiny and double standards’: Katie Hill’s downfall splits Democrats

“I’ve only been here for 10 months, but it’s unbelievable, the kind of scrutiny and double standards that I’ve seen,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), said in an interview, adding that it is particularly difficult for a woman or a person of color.

“This place can be extremely defeating. You’re coming as your unapologetic self. You’re coming as a real person,” Tlaib added. “They’re not ready for people like Katie and I, for people who are different… We needed Katie here and I hope she changes her mind.”

Hill herself warned that younger women may now rethink the possibility of pursuing elected office in an emotional video announcing her resignation this week, as she vowed to “take up a new fight” against the kind of revenge porn-driven attacks she faced.

“There is one thing that I know for sure. I will not allow my experience to scare off other young women or girls from running for office. For the sake of all of us, we cannot let that happen,” Hill said in the video, which has been viewed nearly 200,000 times.

Rep. Cheri Bustos, chair of House Democrats’ campaign arm, however, is not worried about such a chilling effect. “I don’t have any concerns over it,” the Illinois Democrat said.

Some Democrats say they simply don’t know what to think about the circumstances that drove Hill to resign or whether Hill actually violated congressional ethics rules.

“You know what, I’m not going to talk about that. It’s too personal,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said when asked about Hill’s decision to leave Congress.

Her colleagues might have been more eager to defend Hill against her husband’s smear campaign, if not for accusations that she had a relationship with an aide in her congressional office — a blatant violation of the rules that Democrats passed this year in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

And some have privately questioned why Hill would resign just days after the Ethics panel announced it was launching its investigation, arguing that she could have kept her seat if she did not fear what the committee would uncover.

Hill maintains she did not violate House rules outlawing relationships with subordinates and instead said she chose to resign due to the fear “of what would come next” from this “unprecedented brand of cruelty” at the hands of her husband and the conservative news outlets that published the intimate photos.

This isn’t the first time Congress has dealt with a nude photo scandal. Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.) had nude photos of her and her husband stolen and published by two former aides, both of whom were later indicted. And Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) decided to retire after nude photos he sent to women became public.

But this is the first time lawmakers have had to juggle a nude photo scandal of this magnitude: potentially hundreds of photos that could be disseminated at lightning speed via conservative outlets and spread on social media.

While Hill’s circumstances may be extreme, it is the kind of situation that could become more commonplace as more lawmakers arrive in Washington with an extensive digital footprint, lawmakers and aides say.

Some Democrats also pointed out the contrast between Hill and her fellow Californian, Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, who has refused to resign after he was indicted for using campaign funds to help fund at least five extramarital affairs, including allegedly with congressional aides.

“I would hope that people such as Duncan Hunter, as an example, might follow, and do the right thing in resigning as well,” freshman Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.) said of Hill’s decision to leave.

Rouda, like most Democrats, declined to say specifically whether he thought there is a double standard for female and male lawmakers in terms of their private life affecting their political career.

“I’m not sure I would call it a double standard,” he said. “I would call it two standards: The Democratic high standard and there’s a Republican low standard.”

Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.