By Jim EllisMarch 31, 2021 — Iowa Democratic congressional candidate Rita Hart’s 2020 election result challenge has recently attracted significant media attention. With rhetoric sharpening on both sides over Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ (R-Ottumwa) state certified six-vote victory, let’s examine where the situation stands.
To review, Miller-Meeks held a 47-vote edge on the original canvass, a total that was reduced to just six votes after the state’s full recount. Miller-Meeks was certified the victor based upon the original final total, and then re-certified post recount. The bipartisan Iowa state canvassing board issued both certifications on unanimous votes.
The losing Democratic nominee, former state senator and 2018 lieutenant governor nominee Hart, filed her challenge directly with the US House instead of turning to the Iowa court system. She claims there are 22 uncounted votes that would change the outcome. The local Iowa election authorities rejected these ballots for various reasons. At the time of commencement for the new Congress, the House seated Miller-Meeks provisionally until the Hart challenge is resolved.
The motion was referred to the House Administration Committee, a panel of six Democrats and three Republicans. California Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is the committee chair. Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) is the ranking Republican member. The committee held one hearing on the challenge and agreed on a partisan roll call vote to conduct an investigation and hear her case. The committee has not voted to remove Rep. Miller-Meeks, nor has the case been sent from the committee to the House floor.
Should the complaint come before the full body, and with a 6-3 Democratic majority on the Administration Committee, chances are strong that the Hart case will advance, the Democratic leadership may have a difficult time in obtaining the votes to remove Miller-Meeks.
They certainly would face a united Republican conference, meaning 211 votes assuming that Miller-Meeks would not be allowed to vote on her own seating. If they move after the April 24 Louisiana special election where a double-Democratic runoff assures them of gaining an extra seat and increasing the majority conference total to 220, they could afford to lose no more than four Democratic votes in order to successfully take the seat from Miller-Meeks and award it to Hart.
Stories in the Wall Street Journal and Politico suggest the Democrats may have trouble securing the necessary number of votes. Already six Democratic members have expressed public skepticism about removing Miller-Meeks, and there could be at least two more who have a history of bucking their party leadership. Furthermore, the lone Iowa Democratic member would find herself in a precarious political position.
According to the WSJ and Politico, Reps. Susan Wild (D-PA), Dean Phillips (D-MN), Lou Correa (D-CA), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Dan Kildee (D-MI), and Chris Pappas (D-NH) have made statements suggesting they could be open to voting against removing the freshman Republican representative.
Two others who have opposed Speaker Pelosi on several important measures are Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) and Jared Golden (D-ME). Slotkin did not vote to re-elect Speaker Pelosi and Golden voted against one of the original impeachment articles against President Trump and became the only Democrat to oppose the recent COVID-19 transfer payment legislation.
Rep. Cindy Axne represents the Des Moines/Council Bluffs seat and has won her two elections with just 49 and 48 percent of the vote. Earlier in the year, a poll was conducted in the district that produced data suggesting that two-thirds of her district’s constituents would be less likely to support re-electing Axne if she voted to strip Miller-Meeks of her seat.
To make matters even more difficult for her, she confirms consideration of running statewide either for governor or senator in 2022. Having to vote on the Hart motion would make political life arduous for Rep. Axne because she would find herself with new detractors no matter how she ultimately voted.
It is clear the leadership has not yet procured enough of a margin to guarantee a successful seating of Hart or they would have already made the move. Therefore, it will be interesting to see just how much political capital the Democratic leaders are willing to risk in order to increase their majority margin by one seat.