On Tuesday night, on the eve of the impeachment vote in the House of Representatives, more than six hundred pro-impeachment rallies were held across the country. At a park in downtown Los Angeles, across from City Hall, hundreds of activists gathered to lend their support to the cause. City Hall was bathed in red and green light, with the words “Impeach the Predatory President” projected, Jenny Holzer style, in white on the façade. The tone was that of a gallows holiday, with many of the assembled carrying homemade signs decorated with holly, wreaths, and fir trees: “Make Christmas Great Again,” “Merry Impeachment,” “All I Want for Christmas Is Trump Impeached.” One activist was dressed as a Nutcracker; another had strewn multicolored lights around her sign. Trump was there, in the form of a big, orange-faced balloon—the Pumpkin King, wreaking havoc. The “Nightmare Before Christmas” theme extended to a double-decker tour bus, which served as a greenroom for the speakers. On the door to the bus’s dressing room was a plaque that said “Tim Burton.”
On the bus, I met up with Katie Hill, the thirty-two-year-old former congresswoman who stepped down this fall, after details of an intimate relationship she had with a campaign staffer came to light. She sat on a couch on the ground floor of the tour bus, dressed in black jeans and a tightly cinched black trenchcoat—“cagey,” as she said, but undeterred. The decision to come to the rally—one of her first public events since resigning—was highly significant. Impeachment was, and is, a central issue: on Halloween, her final day as a member of the House of Representatives, she voted for the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump to proceed. Then, wearing what she later characterized as a red battle dress, with red war paint on her lips, she offered her resignation, but vowed not to disappear.
At the rally, Hill stood on the roof of the bus, which doubled as a stage, addressing a crowd that was rhythmically chanting her name. She invoked her mentor, Nancy Pelosi, by citing the seriousness of the occasion, then quoted her former colleague Rashida Tlaib. “Everything is a blessing and a curse,” Hill said. “Tonight I can be here, and I am not a member of Congress, and this is a solemn, solemn thing, but I can say tonight, ‘It’s time to impeach the motherfucker!’ ” The only reason such a course was even possible, she emphasized, was because activists like them had helped to give Democrats a majority in the House.
That narrative is personal for Hill. In 2018, as a political novice from a historically Republican district in northern Los Angeles County and eastern Ventura County, Hill beat a Republican incumbent, Steve Knight, to become a part of a group of women who helped flip the House in the midterm elections. Like many of the freshman women, Hill was a new kind of political figure. In her case, a rock-climbing, gun-owning daughter of a nurse and a cop, who lived on a farm with her husband and was openly bisexual.
Hill quickly assumed leadership roles in Washington, as co-chair of the freshman caucus and vice-chair of the high-profile Oversight and Reform Committee. From that perch, she assailed the corrupt structures around the President—particularly the mechanisms of hush money and catch-and-kill journalism that his associates had used to silence women who said that they had had relationships with him. In February, Michael Cohen, formerly Trump’s lawyer and fixer, testified that he had paid the actress Stormy Daniels a hundred and thirty thousand dollars to keep quiet about an alleged affair with the President. When Hill questioned Cohen, his responses revealed that Trump had secretly helped to coördinate the payment, though the President had claimed to the public that he knew nothing about it. Cohen went to prison; the payment, which protected Trump’s image at a crucial time, was ruled a campaign-finance violation; and Trump, who later admitted to personally reimbursing Cohen, is still the President. Hill’s efforts sketched a kind of Lonely Planet guide to the alternate reality occupied by certain powerful, rich men—a place where it is possible to deny, obfuscate, excuse, and normalize inappropriate and even criminal behavior, and, seemingly, to avoid repercussions.
Hill occupies a more familiar world, where actions have consequences, and where an accusation of sexual impropriety—in particular, one made against a woman—can destroy a career. Over the summer, Hill’s husband filed for divorce, and, in the fall, he publicly accused her of having a relationship with her male legislative director, in violation of new, post-#MeToo House rules. Hill denied the relationship, but an ethics investigation was launched. Soon, though, a trove of explicit photographs and personal texts were published online, documenting another relationship, which Hill acknowledged, between herself, her husband, and a female member of her campaign staff who was twenty-two at the time. In a recent Op-Ed for the Times, Hill wrote, “I believe my husband is the source of the images.” (He has denied it, and did not respond to the Times’ requests for comment.) The relationship, apparently consensual, if unconventional, was indiscreet at best, and, because of the woman’s youth and her subordinate position in Hill’s campaign, potentially exploitative. Hill’s case was confusing—an allegation of sexual misconduct was levelled against her, but the allegation itself took the form of sexual harassment.
In a resignation speech on the House floor, Hill apologized for her mistakes. Then she enumerated the outrageous irony of the situation. “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 that she doesn’t belong here,” she said. “Yet a man who brags about his sexual predation, who has had dozens of women come forward to accuse him of sexual assault, who pushes policies that are uniquely harmful to women, and who has filled the courts with judges who proudly rule to deprive women of the most fundamental right to control their own bodies, sits in the highest office of the land.” Hill’s rage was honed and valedictory; she had concluded that if she stayed she would present a distraction from more important causes. “I am leaving because there is only one investigation that deserves the attention of this country, and that’s the one that we voted on today,” she said.
Like Al Franken—who faced allegations of sexual misconduct in 2017, and stepped down soon after—Hill decided not to try to explain herself publicly. “I didn’t want to get into—and I wasn’t going to get into—the complexities around it all,” she told me on the bus. “You’re not in the position to do it.” By resigning, she said, “you take away that power, that thing that they can hold over your head. It was that important to me, especially as we moved into impeachment. I didn’t want my colleagues or the Party to be in the position of having to defend me on that front.”