ELECTION 2020

Miller-Meeks will be sworn in for now, House Speaker Pelosi says

Democratic rival contesting race decided by 6 votes

Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks answers a question Oct. 8 during a debate with Democrat Rita Hart in Cedar Rapids. (
Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks answers a question Oct. 8 during a debate with Democrat Rita Hart in Cedar Rapids. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Iowa Republican U.S. Rep.-elect Mariannette Miller-Meeks will be provisionally sworn in Sunday with the new Congress pending the outcome of an election challenge from Democratic opponent Rita Hart, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Wednesday.

“Every vote counts and that’s why the Committee on House Administration is conducting a thorough and fair review of this election to make sure every vote was counted and counted as cast,” a spokesman for the California Democratic speaker said in a statement. “Pending the outcome of the Committee’s review and consistent with House practice, we intend to provisionally seat the Republican candidate on Sunday.”

Allowing Miller-Meeks to take office does not preclude the House from later deciding that Hart should rightfully hold the seat representing Southeast Iowa, including Iowa City.

Miller-Meeks was certified the winner in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District by just six votes out of more than 400,000 cast. A bipartisan canvassing board of top state officials voted unanimously Nov. 30 to certify the results following recounts in each of the district’s 24 counties.

The Ottumwa ophthalmologist submitted her resignation Wednesday from the Iowa Senate to Gov. Kim Reynolds, effective Saturday.

“When I was first elected to represent District 41 in the Iowa Senate, my goals were to increase access to health care, work to lower prescription drug prices, and create an environment to enhance job creation with expanded rural broadband,” Miller-Meeks wrote in her resignation letter. “It has been a pleasure to work with you and my colleagues in the legislature to advance these and other important issues.”

She said in the letter that she looks forward “to the opportunity to serve Iowans in this new way” as a member of the 117th Congress, with a focus on working “to address the current and future pandemics, lower prescription drug prices, and an infrastructure that includes broadband as well as locks and dams.”

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“It’s humbling. It’s also sad,” Miller-Meeks told the Quad-City Times about resigning her seat and Pelosi’s confirmation of her swearing-in.

Reynolds set a special election for Jan. 26 to fill the vacated Iowa Senate District 41 seat.

Hart, of Wheatland, has asked the House to investigate and overturn the Nov. 3 results, arguing that 22 ballots were wrongly excluded during the initial canvass of votes and later recount.

Additionally, Hart said thousands of ballots with recorded under votes and over votes were not examined for voter intent, due to a “haphazard” recount that was marred by inconsistencies from county to county.

Hart and her attorneys said that raises the likelihood of legally cast votes going uncounted.

But U.S. House Democrats were reported to have raised concerns with Pelosi and Committee on House Administration Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., about the contest from Hart.

The Washington Examiner, quoting Michigan Democrat Rep. Dan Kildee, reported that Democrats are hesitant to vote on the House floor to overturn the state’s certified results.

“Folks are anxious about it, for good reason,” Kildee told the newspaper.

Rep. Lofgren’s office declined to comment Wednesday, pointing to a previous statement that the committee is in “the early stages of reviewing” Hart’s petition.

Miller-Meeks and Republicans have blasted Hart for bypassing Iowa courts and subjecting the outcome to a political process controlled by Democrats. They accuse Hart of seeking to be installed through a partisan power grab they say would overturn the will of Iowa voters.

Hart contends state law does not provide sufficient time to challenge the results in Iowa court.

“I look forward to a complete review of the election,” Hart said in a statement. “State Senator Miller-Meeks has refused to say whether she believes the legally-cast, yet uncounted votes, including those that were cast for her, should be counted. She needs to answer that question. Iowans deserve to know that they will be represented by the candidate who received the most votes in this race.”

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Congress last intervened in a close election 35 years ago, leading to a four-month battle. The Democratic-controlled House left the seat vacant, refusing to seat Republican challenger Richard McIntyre. Ultimately, the House voted to seat Democratic incumbent Frank McCloskey after its recount determined he had won Indiana’s 8th Congressional District by four votes.

The move nullified the state’s certification of his Republican challenger as the winner, with Republicans walking out of the chamber in protest.

Miller-Meeks said she has started to interview congressional staff and is looking at space for district offices “in anticipation that we will prevail” in the election contest.

Erin Murphy of The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau contributed.

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