Democrat Rita Hart withdraws challenge in Iowa House race
Iowa Democrat Rita Hart announced Wednesday that she is withdrawing her challenge to the results of the 2020 race in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.
The decision removes pressure from Democratic leaders in the House, who could have faced a difficult decision on whether to allow a vote on Hart’s challenge in a race that she lost to Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) by six votes.
Hart had presented her challenge to the House Administration Committee, saying that 22 ballots that were not counted should have been part of the tally. The panel’s investigation could eventually have led to a vote on the House floor on whether to seat Hart despite an earlier decision by Iowa’s election board.
Hart said she was withdrawing her challenge after conversations with those close to her but maintained that the challenge was justified.
“After many conversations with people I trust about the future of this contest, I have made the decision to withdraw my contest before the House Committee on Administration,” Hart said in a statement. “Since Election Day, and throughout this entire process, my mission has been about ensuring the voices of Iowans who followed the law are not silenced. I am saddened that some Iowans’ votes will not count through no fault of their own.”
Republicans had latched onto Hart’s challenge, accusing Democrats of plotting to overturn a state-certified election in an effort to pad their narrow majority in the House.
GOP lawmakers have criticized Hart’s decision to take her challenge directly to the Democrat-controlled House Administration Committee, which reviews such election disputes, rather than allow the complaints to be heard in court.
House Democrats pushed back on the GOP’s criticism, arguing that there is nothing unethical or untoward about using an established process to review an election challenge.
In fact, the House has considered 110 contested election cases since 1933, according to the Congressional Research Service. In all but three of those cases, the challenges were rejected. In one case, the House refused to seat anyone and simply declared a vacancy.
In announcing the withdrawal of her challenge on Wednesday, Hart blamed a “toxic campaign of political disinformation” for muddying her efforts “to have every vote counted.”
“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. It is a stain on our democracy that the truth has not prevailed and my hope for the future is a return to decency and civility.”
Still, the drama surrounding the election results in Iowa’s 2nd District put House Democratic leaders in a difficult position, forcing them to confront the prospect of overturning an election just months after former President Donald Trump waged a sweeping legal and public relations campaign to reverse his loss in the 2020 presidential race.
At the same time, some Democrats expressed discomfort with Hart’s challenge. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) warned last week that overturning the Miller-Meeks’s win would cross an ethical line and inflict further damage on a country already struggling with questions about its democracy.
“Losing a House election by six votes is painful for Democrats,” Phillips tweeted. “But overturning it in the House would be even more painful for America. Just because a majority can, does not mean a majority should.”
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, called Hart’s decision to withdraw her challenge “the right thing” to do. But he also criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who had defended the House’s ability to review Hart’s case.
“Glad to see Rita Hart do the right thing and withdraw her objection,” Davis told The Hill. “It had to be a difficult decision. I am still bewildered that Speaker Pelosi even envisioned a scenario that removed the certified winner in Iowa’s Second District, Congresswoman Miller-Meeks.”
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said on Wednesday that he respected Hart’s decision to back down from her challenge.
“From the day she announced her candidacy, Rita Hart has shown that she is a tireless advocate for the people of Iowa,” Maloney said. “I respect her decision and applaud her efforts to ensure that every legal vote was counted in this election. I know her service and commitment to Iowans won’t end here.”
“While Republicans have been throwing up roadblocks to the ballot box at every turn, Democrats will always fight to ensure every American can vote and that every legal vote is counted.”
Updated at 4:50 p.m.