Governor accuses Pelosi of trying to steal 2nd District seat; Pelosi says she wants to be ‘fair’

Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of trying to steal Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks' contested seat in Iowa's 2nd Congressional District. (Screenshot of news conference)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Secretary of State Paul Pate on Thursday said Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks deserves to keep her contested seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Reynolds accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of trying to steal Miller-Meeks’ seat and hand it to Democrat Rita Hart, who has appealed her six-vote loss in the historically tight November election in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. Miller-Meeks was seated in January pending Hart’s appeal to the committee in the Democrat-controlled House.

Pelosi: House panel to decide Monday on next steps

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that a House panel will determine Monday whether a challenge to the results in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District meets “certain criteria to go forward.”

Update: An aide on Friday revised Pelosi’s statement, saying she was referring to written briefings expected Monday by the House Committee on Administration.

Speaking to reporters, Pelosi, D-Calif., also defended the House Committee on Administration’s investigation into that contested race, in which Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks was declared the winner by six votes.

Pelosi has maintained that the Democratic-controlled chamber is simply following the process spelled out in federal law to review a very narrow electoral margin.

“We want to be fair,” Pelosi said. “Now, if I wanted to be unfair, I wouldn’t have seated the Republican from Iowa, because that was my right on the opening day (of the congressional session). I would have just said, ‘They are not seated,’ and that would have been my right as speaker to do. But we didn’t want to do that.”

She praised Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a fellow California Democrat who chairs the Committee on Administration, as well versed in election law, and said it is the House’s right to review its members’ qualifications.

“I think it’s Monday they’ll make a determination as to if these challenges meet certain criteria to go forward,” Pelosi added.

The outcome of the House panel’s investigation will have ramifications not just for the Iowa district’s voters, but for the Democrats’ narrow majority in the House of Representatives. Democrats control the chamber 219-211, with five vacancies.

— By Laura Olson, States Newsroom D.C. Bureau

Reynolds and Pate, both Republicans, repeated the GOP company line in the months-long controversy. They appeared at a Republican Party of Iowa online news conference with Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann.

Former Iowa Sen. Rita Hart, a Democrat, ran for the 2nd Congressional District seat. (Photo courtesy of Hart campaign)

Hart appealed to the House after arguing that an appeal to the panel of Iowa judges, her only other option, would not have allowed enough time for a full review under a state-mandated timeline. Hart has identified 22 votes she says were legally cast and would make her the winner. She has called for another recount, this time by the congressional committee.

Republicans object to what they see as a partisan appeal to the House instead of a court appeal. Thursday’s speakers appeared at a lectern adorned by a sign that read, “Stop the Pelosi Steal.”

Reynolds noted Miller-Meeks’ win was certified by a bipartisan state panel after several recounts involving both campaigns. Nearly 400,000 votes were cast in the southeast Iowa district.

Reynolds said Hart “chose to skip Iowa courts because she knew that her claims weren’t strong enough to pass the judicial process, and Hart has all but conceded that” in campaign filings with the House committee.

“I’m appalled, and I believe Iowans are just as appalled,” Reynolds said.

Hart spokesman Riley Kilburg said Reynolds had chosen to “lie and distort the facts.”

“It’s Kim Reynolds’ record to lie and distort the facts in order to keep Iowans’ votes from counting,” Kilburg said. “Federal law outlines that a federal contest is the proper avenue to ensure that all legal ballots are counted and the (Federal Contested Elections Act) was passed by Congress and signed into law specifically for intensely close federal elections such as this one.

“We have identified at least 22 ballots that were legally cast and wrongfully not counted, and presented credible evidence to support their inclusion in the final tally,” Kilburg said. “These are real Iowans who followed the law and it’s a shame Kim Reynolds is suppressing the votes of her own constituents and misleading Iowans on this process.”

Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks has been seated even as Democrat Rita Hart challenges the election results. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Senate)

Hart has maintained that Miller-Meeks has changed her story, at times acknowledging that all legal votes weren’t counted, and at others saying they were. In an appearance on Iowa PBS’ “Iowa Press” show on Dec. 4, Miller-Meeks said election officials didn’t count all legal votes and suggested state voting laws may need to be changed. Miller-Meeks was a state lawmaker when she ran for the congressional seat for the fourth time.

“There were votes that were cast that were for me also that were not counted and that I did not receive,” Miller-Meeks said on the show. “So I think throughout that process you can’t continue to want to change the rules because the count doesn’t go the way that you want.”

Pate said recounts of the results in Iowa before the federal appeal were bipartisan. He added that the state courts have typically ruled very quickly on election cases.

“The Hart campaign should have exhausted all state avenues before asking for a federal chamber, controlled by her party, to make the final determination,” Pate said. 

In a news release Wednesday, Hart’s campaign said: “Federal law provides that this contest is the proper avenue for Congress to fulfill its duty and ensure that all Iowa voters have their voices heard and guarantee fulfillment of each voter’s constitutional right to have their legal ballots counted. Rita’s (submissions to the committee) outline the legal ballots that have been left on the table and ask for a process that is fair, transparent, and follows the facts.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a news conference at Iowa PBS in Johnston, Iowa. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS livestream)

Kaufmann said the appeal is purely a political move, but a legal one. 

“We’re not talking about legality here,” Kaufmann said. “We’re talking about morality here.”

The appeal has become national news in recent weeks. And U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican, weighed in this week in a statement.

Grassley said he supported former President Donald Trump’s right to file lawsuits claiming election irregularities. Grassley said he opposed overturning states’ election results.

“My position remains the same with respect to the state-certified election of Representative Miller-Meeks, who now ably represents Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District,” Grassley said.