Lost among the stories of mass shootings and the immigration crisis at the border is the tale of a disputed congressional election and its implications for the Democrats in the U. S. House of Representatives. Awarding the seat to the Republican will diminish the Democrats’ chances of passing as much as they want of their economic program. But awarding the seat to the Democrat may increase the probability that House Democrats will suffer catastrophic losses in 2022.
In this particular House race in Iowa, Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks seems to have won 6 votes more than her Democratic opponent, Rita Hart, out of 400,000 votes cast. The Iowa Board of Canvassers, following a recount, certified Miller-Meeks the winner, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi authorized her seating as a Member of Congress—provisionally.
Hart has filed a challenge in the House seeking to have it eject Miller-Meeks and seat her instead. She claims that 22 legally valid votes were never counted. Review of her petition by the 9-member (6 Democrats and 3 Republicans) House Administration Committee has begun.
Republicans are vigorously objecting. They say Miller-Meeks’s election, despite the hair-breadth thin margin of victory, entitles her to the congressional seat, that Hart gave up her right to challenge the election by failing to do so in Iowa’s courts, and that the Democrats are now seeking to overturn a legitimate election result.
But federal law and House rules are on Hart’s side. Her initial failure to challenge the election in Iowa does not bar her from challenging it in Washington, and the House does have the right to replace Miller-Meeks with Hart if it deems election irregularities prevented Hart’s victory in the first place.
Moreover, Speaker Pelosi has what seems to be an excellent reason to try to want Democrat Hart to ultimately win the seat. The Democrats currently have a razor thin majority of 8 seats in the 435-member House of Representatives. The defection of only a few Democratic votes can doom to defeat major portions of their legislative agenda. No doubt Pelosi believes she needs all the Democrats she can get.
But here’s the Democrats looming 2022 problem. History has shown that when Democrats are perceived as engaging in too much legislative overreach, they’re liable to lose many seats to the Republicans in the next election—possibly enough to lose their majorities to the GOP. For example, at the beginning of Bill Clinton’s administration the Democrats held 56 out of a hundred Senate seats and 258 out of 435 House seats. In 1994, following two years in which the congressional Democrats had supported Clinton’s demands for a tax hike and an attempt at comprehensive health insurance reform, the Democrats lost 9 Senate seats and 54 House seats to the Republicans, giving the GOP control of both chambers of Congress simultaneously for the first time in 40 years.
The 2010 midterm elections during President Obama’s first term were almost as catastrophic for the Democrats. Following the adoption of Obamacare earlier that year, the Democrats went into the election with 58 Senate seats and 257 House seats. That year the Democrats lost 7 Senate seats to the Republicans; they would have lost more—probably enough to give the GOP a Senate majority–had Republican primary voters nominated more responsible conservatives and fewer crackpots and assorted religious zealots. And the Democrats lost 64 House seats to the GOP to give the latter a clear House majority.
Speaker Pelosi may well believe that if the Democrats are to pass their ambitious agenda of laws promoting election reform, distributing $1.9 trillion in economic stimuli, and creating a $3 trillion infrastructure program, she’d better do it now when her chances of success are greatest. “If you have the votes, use them,” as was said to justify former President Trump’s end-of-term effort to put a third appointee on the supreme Court.
But while the current Democratic program may well trigger a 2022 electoral reaction similar to those suffered by the Democrats in 1994 and 2010, a decision by the House Democrats to replace Republican Miller-Meeks with Democrat Rita Hart may well make things even worse for them in the long run even if they can expand their majority by one vote now. Republicans may well make hay out of an anti-Republican decision, claiming the Democrats are overturning the legitimate outcome of an election already decided—a decision they’ll call an act of hypocrisy made worse when made in tandem with Democrats’ calls for more open elections. And moderate midwestern Democrats are beginning to express agreement with the GOP. At least 3 have questioned the wisdom of pursuing this matter; if one or two more also raise objections, then there may be enough members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans together, to block the Democrats’ attempts eject Miller-Meeks for Hart. And no matter what happens, the GOP will have one more issue to exploit in 2022.
No matter how the last contested House race from 2020 is decided, the GOP will ultimately benefit.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.