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Iowa Democrat drops attempt to contest House race, citing ‘toxic campaign of political disinformation’

Mariannette Miller-Meeks speaks to reporters during an election night watch party in Riverside, Iowa on Nov. 4.
Mariannette Miller-Meeks speaks to reporters during an election night watch party in Riverside, Iowa on Nov. 4. (Joseph Cress/AP)
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Democrat Rita Hart has dropped her challenge in the Iowa 2nd Congressional District race, asking the House to no longer consider an investigation into the outcome of her race against Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks following intense Republican pushback.

In a statement released Wednesday, Hart said she decided to inform the House Administration Committee to no longer investigate her case after having numerous conversations with people about the future of the investigation. She also blamed Republican criticism in announcing her decision to drop the appeal.

“Despite our best efforts to have every vote counted, the reality is that the toxic campaign of political disinformation to attack this constitutional review of the closest congressional contest in 100 years has effectively silenced the voices of Iowans,” Hart said.

Resistance grows in both parties to Democratic probe of narrow Iowa race

Miller-Meeks was declared the winner over Hart following a recount in November with a difference of just six votes out of 400,000 cast. Miller-Meeks is now serving as the district’s representative, but Hart had asked the House to overturn the result. Hart alleges that 22 legally cast ballots were not considered during the initial November canvass and subsequent recount, resulting in the tightest congressional electoral outcome in modern history.

In a video responding to Hart’s decision, Miller-Meeks announced that she received “a very gracious call” from her former Democratic opponent officially conceding the race.

“I’m deeply appreciative that we’re ending this now and I wish only the best for she and her family because I know how stressful this has been,” she said.

A person familiar with Hart’s decision, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions, said she no longer wanted to put her family through mounting negative and what they described as misleading attacks on her request to have the House overturn the election results.

Under the Constitution, the House has the right to determine the outcome of their own members’ elections, and losers of a race can file an appeal without having to first sue in state court. The House Administration Committee has been investigating the results of the race in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District at Hart’s request.

In recent weeks, Republicans accused Democrats of being hypocrites for considering overturning the results of an election just months after all Democrats voted to impeach President Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, which they said was inspired by his false claims that his loss to Joe Biden was due to voter fraud. GOP leaders accused Hart of failing to first make an appeal in Iowa state courts and going directly to the Democratically controlled House to get the results overturned.

When Democrats challenge the election results and Republicans want them to stand

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) stood by Miller-Meeks in her Davenport, Iowa district earlier Wednesday where he continued to accuse House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democrats of wanting to overturn the race to expand their slim majority.

“Rita Hart and Nancy Pelosi finally heard what many Iowans told me today: Mariannette Miller-Meeks is the duly-elected Congresswoman serving Iowa’s Second Congressional District. Pelosi’s attempted power grab failed. And Iowans and America are better off because of it,” McCarthy said in a statement responding to Hart’s decision.

The National Republican Campaign Committee launched a pressure campaign over a week ago targeting vulnerable Democrats, including nine who ended up expressing their concerns over the ongoing investigation. It also released a radio ad targeting the sole Iowa Democratic member of the House — Cindy Axne — accusing her of wanting to steal an election.

In a statement, NRCC spokesman Mike Berg said that despite Hart’s announcement, Republcians “won’t let voters forget that Democrats will do whatever they can to subvert democracy if given the opportunity.”

During a news conference last week, Pelosi pushed back against Republican criticism that she and fellow Democrats were unfairly allowing the investigation to continue and undermining election integrity.

“If I wanted to be unfair, I wouldn’t have seated the Republican from Iowa because that was my right,” Pelosi said about her privileges as speaker. “It would’ve been, under the rules, allowable for me to say we’re not seating the member from Iowa. We did not do that, so I want credit for that.”

The panel had just begun the discovery phase of the investigation before Hart’s announcement. Committee members had received initial briefs from Hart and Miller-Meeks’s lawyers and paused consideration of dismissing Miller-Meeks’s request to dismiss the investigation in an effort to garner more evidence.

They are also reviewing an appeal made by Republican candidate Jim Oberweis who lost against Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood (Ill.) by over 5,000 votes. Like Hart, he did not sue in state court before filing with the House but Republicans have not targeted his filing nearly as aggressively as the Iowa 2nd race. However, McCarthy did tell FOX News Wednesday that the caucus “does not support” Oberwise’s investigation and acknowledges Underwood as the winner.

Had the committee gone through the investigation process, they could have made a recommendation to the full House about whether to dismiss the case, hold a new election or seat Hart.

However, many swing-state Democrats were already voicing opposition to voting for overturning an election if that recommendation was made. With only a three vote margin in the House, Democrats would likely not have been successful in reversing the outcome of the race or calling for a new election given the opposition by some moderates.

“There being no contestant, there is no longer a contest, and the Committee will, accordingly, recommend that the whole House dispose of the contest and adopt a dismissal resolution reported out by the Committee,” Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said in a statement.