Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed Wednesday that she plans to seat the GOP winner of a contested race in Iowa on Jan. 3, despite a pending challenge from the Democratic contender in the razor-thin election.
Her decision avoids a brazen partisan showdown to kick off the 117th Congress, but it remains unclear if the GOP winner, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, will keep that seat for the entire two-year term, as Democrat Rita Hart continues to contest her six-vote loss, claiming not all legal ballots were properly counted.
In a controversial move, Hart has bypassed the Iowa courts and made her appeal contesting the results directly to the House. A House investigation is expected to take several months to make a recommendation on the true winner and then Congress can vote on who should hold the seat.
Pelosi made the announcement during a press conference Wednesday, when she succinctly replied “yes” when asked if she planned to seat Miller-Meeks before moving on to another question.
“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,” Pelosi’s spokesperson, Drew Hammill, elaborated in a statement following the press conference. “Pending the outcome of the Committee’s review and consistent with House practice, we intend to provisionally seat the Republican candidate on Sunday.”
The fate of Iowa’s second district — and who would be seated when Congress meets to begin the 117th Congress on Sunday — has remained an open question as lawmakers and campaign officials of both parties speculated what Pelosi might do. House Democrats could have also chosen to leave the seat open until the House panel completes its review.
But many Democrats were privately worried about the optics of not seating the certified winner of the seat as they continue to sharply criticize President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the presidential election results, despite Joe Biden’s overwhelming victory.
Refusing to seat Miller-Meeks, the certified winner of an election, would be extremely rare. It has only happened three times since 1933, according to congressional records.
Miller-Meeks was declared the winner by Iowa’s election officials in late November, but Hart has not conceded and is now asking the House Administration Committee to scrutinize the results and possibly overturn the state’s decision.
Any member of the House could object to Miller-Meeks being sworn in with the rest of the freshmen class on Jan. 3, but senior aides predicted that would be unlikely to happen after Pelosi made the decision to seat her.
Hart formally filed her challenge with the House last week under the Federal Contested Election Act. (Pelosi’s intent to seat Miller-Meeks will not directly affect Hart’s contest.)
In the coming weeks, the House Administration Committee is expected to create a panel to investigate her claims — potentially by conducting a recount — and then determine the victor of the seat.
In her complaint, Hart laid out a detailed explanation of why 22 ballots had been improperly rejected. Had these ballots been tallied, she said she would have been in the lead.
The current incumbent, Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack, is retiring next month. Miller-Meeks, an ophthalmologist, has run four times for the southeast Iowa district. The district is a biennial swing-seat. Trump carried it in 2016 and 2020.
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