Iowa Democrat Rita Hart withdrew her contest before Congress on Wednesday, ending her challenge of her state-certified, six-vote loss amid increasing pressure by Republicans to dismiss her case and growing skepticism by Democrats of overturning the House election.
“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,” said Hart in a statement. “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.”
Hart’s decision came hours after House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy rallied with Hart’s opponent, GOP Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, in Iowa, and two days after Hart lawyer Marc Elias asked the House Administration Committee to “count every vote.”
Republicans have argued that Democrats are trying to steal the seat, after they lambasted former President Donald Trump for trying to reverse his electoral defeat in 2020. Hart and some Democrats have retorted that she sought to count legal ballots while the former President baselessly sought to throw them out.
Iowa’s bipartisan canvassing board certified in November that Hart lost to Miller-Meeks by six votes out of nearly 400,000 cast. Hart then took her case to the House, hoping that it would count 22 other ballots and declare her the winner.
Miller-Meeks’ lawyers warned Monday that Hart’s case could damage the public’s faith in its elections if a Democratic-controlled House panel investigated her case, and a Democratic-controlled House voted to seat a Democrat despite the verdict of the state. They asked in the brief, “At what point would the committee be merely searching for a result rather than searching for the will of Iowans?”
Miller-Meeks’ attorneys have also charged that Hart could’ve gone to court instead of Congress, while Hart’s campaign has argued there wasn’t enough time for the Iowa judicial system to rule on the case by a December 8 deadline.
Elias wrote to the House panel that while Miller-Meeks might try to “distract both the public and the House by injecting partisan rancor into these proceedings — an apparent effort to compensate for her lack of legal, factual, or normative arguments,” Hart is trying to ensure that the district is represented by the candidate who “received the most lawful votes.”
“After months of discussion and filings, Contestee Miller-Meeks has yet to produce a single argument to suggest why the 22 votes identified in this proceeding should not be counted,” he added.
Some House Democrats have become increasingly wary of overturning the House race, as Republicans have gone on the attack.
“The burden of proof in this matter lies with Ms. Hart, and her evidence would need to clear a very high bar to warrant action from the House,” Rep. Matt Cartwright, a Pennsylvania Democrat, recently told CNN. “Otherwise, election decisions made at the state and local level should be respected.”
The National Republican Campaign Committee has targeted vulnerable Democrats over the issue, including Iowa Rep. Cindy Axne. It launched on Monday a radio ad against her featuring a narrator who says, “Thou shall not steal.” In December, Axne said that Hart has the “constitutional and legal grounds to pursue” her case. “I support a transparent process that ensures every properly-cast vote in this contest is counted,” Axne added.
This week, McCarthy urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a letter to “put your faith in our democracy and dismiss this partisan contest.”
Last week, Pelosi defended the House Administration Committee as it considered Hart’s case, and said if she had “wanted to be unfair” she would’ve not seated Miller-Meeks in January.
“If you had lost a race by six votes, wouldn’t you like to say, ‘There must be some way that we can count this,'” asked Pelosi. “The House of Representatives has the authority to do that.”
“We want to be fair,” she added.
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.