Culture

We’re living in a golden era—to put a positive spin on it—of viral politics. And few Capitol Hill gatherings more reliably generate Twitter Moment-fodder than the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

It was where Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in her second-ever Oversight hearing, spelled out the case for campaign finance reform in a “lightning round game”—becoming the most-viewed video of any politician on Twitter. Later that month, Twitter tuned in live to watch the Oversight Committee question President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen.

It’s not just that the Oversight Committee, as the main investigative committee in the House of Representatives, plays a critical role in determining what exactly is going on in our government. As of this year, the committee is also stacked with some of the biggest names from the cool, new crop of representatives: Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley—all first year congresswomen who bring much-needed perspectives to their criticism of the current administration.

But the highest-ranking freshman on Oversight? That would be Katie Hill, the 31-year-old Democrat from Southern California. Hill made headlines in November when she flipped her district after going up against an incumbent, becoming California’s first openly bisexual congressperson. Since then, the Los Angeles Times has called Hill one of the most powerful freshmen in Congress, noting that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has taken Hill under her wing. In January, Hill was voted Vice Chair of Oversight—an important job at any time, and right now, a highly-scrutinized one. A seasoned Democratic aide says it’s rare for a freshman member to get elected.

Veteran Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the Oversight Committee, says that Rep. Hill was one of the first freshmen to request a meeting with him after arriving on Capitol Hill this winter. “I was immediately impressed with her seriousness, her commitment to her constituents, and her willingness to step into a leadership role as a freshman member,” he tells ELLE.com. Cummings believes Hill “has personified the Committee’s mission of conducting rigorous and responsible oversight to ensure that the government is working for the people.”

In one of those first meetings, Hill says, Cummings said something that has stuck with her. “It [was] that our role on Oversight is to get to the truth and to follow the truth wherever it leads us and to expose that for the American people,” Hill tells me over the phone. “To make sure that they have the information that they should have to, frankly, evaluate their government.”

Easier said than done, especially for a freshman learning the arcane rules and procedures of Congressional hearings. One of the first times Hill led the group, North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows—“probably one of the people I agree with the least in this Congress,” she says—was filling in as ranking member. When it was time to close out the hearing, Hill announced, “This meeting is adjourned.” Hill packed up her belongings, ready for the door—but the other committee members sat waiting. Then, “Mark Meadows takes the gavel, taps it, and then hands it to me.” Meeting actually adjourned.

Hill came to Capitol Hill determined not to get sidetracked by the goings-on of the Trump administration. And while she’s still focused on the issues affecting her constituents—issues like lowering the cost of prescription drugs and investing in infrastructure—she says living in D.C. has made her appreciate the checks and balances the Oversight Committee is asked to uphold. “You’re so much more aware of the real risks that are happening because of the decisions that are being made in this administration,” she says.

When the Mueller Report was released in April, Hill tweeted about the importance—or rather, the necessity—of the Oversight Committee’s mission. “If there was any question on whether or not our job on Oversight was necessary,” she tweeted, “it was answered by the President of the United States saying, ‘This is the end of my Presidency. I’m f——d,’ when an impartial investigator started looking into his conduct.” A week later, the White House directed government officials to defy subpoenas from the Oversight Committee.

Talking to Hill a few weeks after, she sounds like someone who’s simply determined to do her job and uphold the oath she took when she first came to Congress. And regardless of whether these investigations, by Oversight or other congressional committees, ends in impeachment, Hill believes she and other legislators are “hampered” by the Trump administration’s “corruption,” “belligerence,” and “unwillingness to actually work on behalf of the people.”

“I ultimately think that we have to deal with that,” she says, “or we’re just never going to be able to accomplish the things that we set out to do.”

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