Iowa congressional contest heats up as House takes first step to consider election challenge
Congresswoman-elect Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, is expected to be seated on a provisional basis when the new Congress begins Sunday.
Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks was provisionally sworn-in on Jan. 3 to Congress after Iowa certified her election win by six votes. But Democrat Rita Hart is contesting the result with the Democratic-led House of Representatives, which has the final say on contested elections.
For nearly two months, Hart and Miller-Meeks have been preparing paperwork and framing their legal arguments to the House of Representatives on why each believes she is the true winner of the race.
But the committee that is responsible for reviewing the arguments and making the determination hasn't formally been organized or held a meeting.
Rep.-elect Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, will be sworn in Sunday Jan. 3 after winning Iowa's Second Congressional District by six votes and flipping the seat from blue to red. Her Democratic challenger Rita Hart, however, says she won if all the votes had been counted. Hart is contesting the results in the House of Representatives, which will have the final say. (Mariannette Miller-Meeks campaign)
That all changes on Wednesday afternoon. The House Administration Committee is set to meet on Feb. 10 to formally establish the committee for the new Congress in an organizational meeting, Fox News has learned.
As of now, the politically charged Iowa race is not expected to be discussed on Wednesday, one source told Fox News. But the meeting, led by House Administration Committee chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., is the first step to getting the committee up and running to do the work.
Spokespeople for Lofgren did not immediately respond to Fox News' requests for comment.
Hart and Miller-Meeks were in the closest race in the country. The final Iowa tally had Miller-Meeks winning by just six votes and flipping a blue seat for Republicans.
Instead of challenging the results in court, Hart contested the election with the House in a formal petition. Her campaign has identified 22 voters in the 2nd District who voted legally, but whose ballots were not included in the final tally. Hart is asking the House to launch a review of the election and count these legal voters -- which would make her the winner.
Miller-Meeks' campaign filed a motion to dismiss the case arguing Hart needed to exhaust her legal remedies in Iowa before making a political case to Congress.
"No amount of partisan spin can change the fact that the precedents of the House of Representatives require a contestant to first present her claims under state law," said Alan Ostergren, attorney Miller-Meeks. "The Iowans in the Second Congressional District should not be denied their elected representative because Rita Hart cannot accept the fact that she lost."
The top Republican on the House Administration Committee, Ilinois Rep. Rodney Davis, wants the committee to dismiss the case and accept that Miller-Meeks won the election. But Democrats are in charge and hold a slim majority in Congress.
The House Administration Committee has a range of options, from recommending dismissal to recommending the seat declared vacant and a new election be held.
In a 1985 Indiana case involving Indiana Democratic incumbent Frank McCloskey, the committee formed a three-person task force to investigate the contested election that he initially lost by 418 votes. They secured all the ballots, set rules to count them and launched a recount with the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office. A four-month-long congressional investigation and recount determined that McCloskey won the election by four votes.
A divided House then voted 236-190 to award the seat to McCloskey.
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 13: Former Iowa State Senator Rita Hart speaks with a reporter at her farm in Wheatland, Iowa on Tuesday August 13, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call) Photo credit: Getty images
If the Democratic-led House decides to hear Hart's case, then that could kick off a scenario where all members of Congress would have to cast a vote on whether Hart should be seated as the official representative in the 2nd District.
Meantime, back in Iowa, The Quad-City Times and the Iowa City Press-Citizen have reported that Miller-Meeks' legal team has been on the hunt for more ballots for her in GOP strongholds in the district. Any additional ballots could be necessary if the House Administration Committee decides to investigate her six-vote victory.
Hart's campaign painted the hunt for ballots as a sign that Miller-Meeks realizes that legal votes were indeed left uncounted in the district and said it's further evidence Congress needs to intervene.
"Miller-Meeks and her team know that the 22 votes Rita has brought forth in her contest were legally cast, and this latest development shows that the Committee on House Administration must consider her contest brought correctly under the Federal Contested Elections Act," Hart's campaign manager Zach Meunier said Friday.