It’s no secret that the margins for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi are narrow. The 2020 election gave Democrats 222 members of the House and Representatives and Republicans 211, with the line for a majority on any piece of legislation being 218.
Since the election, that margin has narrowed even further, with Democrats holding 219 seats, Republicans 211, and five vacancies in the middle.
Those vacancies have come from three Democrats joining the Biden administration, and two Republicans passing away since voters hit the polls. While both parties expect to grab the same seats lost in the vacancies come 2022, nothing is ever a given in politics.
And with margins so thin in the House, Pelosi and Democrats are looking for any advantage they can take.
Enter Iowa’s 2nd House District, where the closest House race in the country took place. How close? According to the Wall Street Journal, “GOP Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks won the November race by 47 votes in the first count and six votes after lawyers wrangled over ballots in a recount.”
Election officials in Iowa counted, recounted, and certified the results in the state. Republicans won that race by the smallest of margins.
That should be it, but it’s not. House Democrats, led by Pelosi, are looking for a way to disqualify the Republican who won.
The House of Representatives has the constitutional authority under Article 1, Section 5, to choose its members: “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members.” What that means, practically, is that the House can, at its discretion, overrule an election if it finds reasons to do so.
In the recent past, the parties have declined to use this power because of the fraught political nature behind it. If you’re overruling the will of the people in a given district, you had better have a good reason.
The practice goes back to 1792, the beginning of the nation. But, again, it’s been rarely used. And in the most recent past, you’d have to go back to 1984, when Democrats pushed out a Republican House winner in the “Bloody Eighth” district. Reagan and Republicans were thoroughly outraged when Democrats replaced that race winner with a Dem.
There was also a brief flare-up in the late 1800s and early 1900s when both parties extensively used this power in increasing numbers to expand their majorities in the House. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove noted:
Using this clause, both parties routinely expanded their majorities during the Gilded Age by challenging the minority’s narrow or suspect victories and replacing them with their own or declaring the seat vacant, provoking a time-consuming special election. Between the 44th Congress (1875-77) and the 58th (1903-05), the parties flipped a total of 59 seats through such challenges.
Creating a vacancy is another way to give yourself an advantage. Such a move allows for maintaining a majority while denying numbers to the other party.
Both options are in play with the 2nd District in Iowa. The Des Moines Register reports that “Democrat Rita Hart has challenged that result in Congress, rather than through the state’s court system, asking the Committee on House Administration to investigate 22 ballots she alleges were not properly counted but would have put her ahead.”
And now, “[t]he congressional committee tasked with adjudicating Iowa’s still-unsettled 2nd District election is giving both campaigns until March 29 to file written responses to a series of questions intended to govern its next steps.”
The critical part here is that Democrat Rita Hart is skipping over any legal challenges. She’s claiming 22 other votes should have been counted, an interesting argument.
But Hart is not bringing that challenge under the law or claiming anyone did anything illegal. Instead, she’s trying to get her party to agree with her and put her in office.
If you’ll recall, when Donald Trump challenged the results of the 2020 election, he launched numerous legal challenges, which all failed for various reasons in state and federal court. Hart isn’t even trying that; she’s seeking to have Democrats overturn the results of the election under a factual claim she won’t bring before a judge.
That is why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has come out so strong against Pelosi and Democrats on this maneuver, saying:
The outcome was certified. That’s the magic word, certified, that we heard over and over again in November and December… The process played out in a way that every liberal in America spent November, December, and January insisting was beyond question. Democratic leadership is trying to use brute political power to kick her out and replace this congresswoman with a Democrat whom she defeated. You don’t often see hypocrisy this blatant and this shameless so quickly.
And, per usual, McConnell hits the nail on the head. What Democrats are doing is utterly hypocritical. They’re trying to overthrow certified election results, which they called an affront to democracy and American ideals.
The other thing about Pelosi and Democrats is that they will open Pandora’s box if they go through with this. You’d have to be wholly naive or a moron of the first order to think Republicans won’t exercise this same power against Democrats in retaliation.
Take another look at the history in Karl Rove’s column in the Wall Street Journal. Both political parties exercised this power, taking more and more seats from each other for almost 25 years. Pelosi and Harry Reid helped accelerate the filibuster’s use into what we see now, and they’ve reaped the whirlwind for it.
Suppose Pelosi is foolish enough to try for one seat here. In that case, Republicans will be politically incentivized to take even more from Democrats using the same rationale when they retake the House, perhaps as soon as 2022.
Power grabs have consequences. Democrats have frequently blinded themselves to this reality.
We’re about to find out how blind they are in the decision to meddle in the 2nd District of Iowa.