Moderate Democrats warn leaders against meddling in Iowa race

Moderate Democrats are urging party leaders not to meddle in a contested Iowa House race, warning that the potential benefit of flipping a seat in their favor this cycle isn’t worth the long-term political damage it would cause in the next.

Democrats had fought tooth-and-nail against President Trump’s attempt to reverse the outcome of November’s presidential contest, accusing Trump of abusing his powers in an effort to nullify the will of voters.

While the situation in Iowa is far different — and the results drastically closer than those delivering Trump’s defeat — centrist Democrats are wary that even the best-faith effort to reexamine the outcome in Iowa’s 2nd District would be overwhelmed by the terrible optics of the majority party using its powers to flip a certified seat to its side. 

“It strikes me as remarkably hypocritical and a dangerous precedent at a time we need to be repairing precedents,” said one moderate Democrat, who requested anonymity to speak on a delicate topic.

A second moderate House Democrat echoed those remarks: “As painful as it was to lose this election by six votes, and although I sympathize with Rita Hart, the state certified these election results. Upending them at this point would only serve to further divide the country.”

“I want to see what compelling reasons there are for the feds to get involved in this,” added Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.), a member of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, in an interview with CNN. “I think these are issues that right now are probably best left at the state level.”

Hart lost the race in Iowa’s 2nd District in what was a nail-biter of historic proportions: GOP Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks defeated her by just six votes out of more than 390,000 cast — one of the tightest margins in modern congressional history. After a recount, the state certified the tally and Miller-Meeks was seated in January.

“All legal ballots were counted and recounted and certified, and here I am serving in Congress,” Miller-Meeks told Fox News last week. 

But Hart has challenged the result, claiming there are 22 outstanding votes that should have been considered — a number easily high enough to turn the outcome. And she’s taken her formal plea not to the courts, but to the House, which has the constitutional authority to “be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members.” 

Such a reversal has a precedent. In 1985, behind House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.), Democrats launched an examination into the state-certified victory of Republican Rick McIntyre over Rep. Frank McCloskey (D) in Indiana’s 8th District after it was found that thousands of ballots had gone uncounted. The probe found that McCloskey had won by four votes, and he was seated — to the howls of Republicans, who stormed out of the chamber in protest. 

The Iowa challenge now rests with the House Administration Committee, led by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), which has denied Miller-Meeks’s appeal to let the certified results stand and instead launched the investigation Hart had requested. And Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), say they’re open to the possibility of reversing the outcome and placing Hart in that seat — if the investigation reveals she won.  

“I want the honest answer, whoever wins,” Hoyer told reporters last week. 

Top Republicans have been slamming Democrats over Iowa. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who spoke passionately against Trump’s efforts to overturn the presidential election, accused Pelosi and the Democrats of “blatant and shameless” hypocrisy and using “brute political power” to replace Miller-Meeks with the losing Democratic candidate. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who backed GOP efforts to overturn Trump’s defeat, said it appeared Democrats were trying to “steal” an election. And other Republican notables are piling on. 

“That takes a lot of guts,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R), Iowa’s senior senator, told Fox News. “At the same time, those same Democrats were convicting Republicans of the fact that we weren’t naming Joe Biden the winner.”

It’s not just Trump’s allies who are blasting the Democrats’ investigation. On Monday, nine House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump this year for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot warned Pelosi that Democrats’ partisan attempts to overturn the Iowa results would “erode” trust in the election system.

“This action not only set a dangerous precedent for future elections, it reinforces the false belief by many in our country that our election system is rigged and that certain politicians can change results to fit their whims,” wrote the group of GOP lawmakers, including House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Reps. Jamie Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Fred Upton (Mich.), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio).

But the Democrats’ challenge suffered a setback on Monday when a respected moderate Democrat, Rep. Dean Phillips (Minn.), took to Twitter to oppose his own party.  

“Losing a House election by six votes is painful for Democrats. But overturning it in the House would be even more painful for America,” said Phillips, a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

“Just because a majority can, does not mean a majority should.”

Phillips’s warning echoes that coming from other Democrats across the political spectrum, who are urging leadership to use their majority — however slim — to pursue the party’s ambitious legislative agenda rather than relitigating November’s election defeats. 

The Democratic criticisms suggest that, even if the Administration Committee voted to side with Hart and recommend reversing Miller-Meeks’s victory, the override would face a much tougher audience on the House floor, where Democrats enjoy only a razor-thin 219 to 211 majority.

Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) told Fox News on Sunday that there’s “not the slightest chance” Democrats would overturn the result in Iowa.

“I have confidence that all sides of that House Administration Committee process are well aware of how sensitive and how difficult this is,” Price said. 

The pushback from Democrats has not been overlooked by GOP campaign strategists, who are highlighting the divide between leadership and rank-and-file members, particularly those in tough districts.

“We’re glad Rep. Phillips took our advice and came out against Nancy Pelosi’s toxic attempt to overturn a state-certified election. Rep. Phillips’ vulnerable colleagues should follow his lead,” said Mike Berg, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.  

Yet Pelosi and her leadership team have shown no signals of backing down, noting that more than half of the GOP conference had voted to nullify the will of voters on Jan. 6 based on nothing more than Trump’s false claims of election fraud. 

“For them to call anybody hypocritical about elections when two-thirds of them in the House voted against accepting the presidency of Joe Biden is — well, it’s just who they are,” Pelosi said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” program.

Tags Adam Kinzinger Anthony Gonzalez Charles Grassley Chuck Grassley David Price Dean Phillips Donald Trump Fred Upton Iowa Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Liz Cheney Lou Correa Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Steny Hoyer Zoe Lofgren

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