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Iowa's Incoming Congressional Delegation Takes Office

eGuide Travel / flickr
Iowa's incoming congressional delegation have taken their oaths of office. Three of the representatives are freshmen members of Congress.

Iowa’s new congressional delegation was officially sworn in Sunday, joining what is the most diverse Congress in American history. Five of Iowa’s six members of Congress took their oaths following their elections in November: Sen. Joni Ernst of Red Oak, Rep. Ashley Hinson of Marion, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Ottumwa, Rep. Cindy Axne of West Des Moines, and Rep. Randy Feenstra of Hull.

Miller-Meeks was sworn in provisionally and it remains unclear whether she’ll be able to retain her status. Her competitor, former Democratic state Sen. Rita Hart, has filed an appeal with the Committee on House Administration challenging the election, which state officials say Hart lost by a mere six votes.

Iowa’s incoming class of representatives has more freshmen lawmakers than it has in years; following the retirement of longtime Rep. Dave Loebsack of Iowa City and the ousters of Rep. Abby Finkenauer of Cedar Rapids and Rep. Steve King of Kiron, Axne of the 3rd Congressional District is now the senior member of the state’s House delegation, though she’s only just begun her second two year term.

In a statement on her swearing-in, Axne pledged to work with colleagues in both parties on such issues as the coronavirus crisis, economic recovery, healthcare costs and systemic racism.

“The past two years presented incredible challenges to our communities, including devastating natural disasters, a destructive trade war, economic turmoil, and a pandemic that has claimed the lives of thousands of Iowans,” the written statement from Axne reads in part. “As I renew my service to my constituents, I know that the top priority of this Congress must be supporting the Iowans affected by these crises.”

High levels of voter turnout and an expansion of support for President Donald Trump in districts across the country helped Republicans flip seats up and down the ballot, erasing many of the gains Democrats made during the 2018 midterm election.

In Iowa, these trends helped Ernst beat out Democrat Theresa Greenfield in one of the most expensive Senate races in U.S history.

“I’m humbled and honored by the support of folks in every corner of our state, and I look forward to getting right back to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to continue serving Iowans in the 117th Congress,” a written statement from Ernst reads in part.

In northeast Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, Hinson, a former broadcast journalist and Republican state lawmaker unseated Finkenauer, a first-term congresswoman who had herself unseated a Republican incumbent just two years prior, making her one of the youngest women ever elected to Congress.

“Iowans sent me to Congress to help end the chaos and dysfunction in D.C. and tackle tough issues that impact them each day,” Hinson said in a written statement. “From fixing our broken health care system to helping families keep more of their paychecks, I will work with anyone to help Iowans and move our country forward.”

“Regardless of if you voted for me or not, I will fight for you in D.C. and work to serve you every day,” she added.

Whether Miller-Meeks will remain the representative for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District remains unsettled, pending the outcome of Hart’s challenge before the Democratically-controlled House. The administration committee could opt to conduct its own recount in the race, a process that could take months.

If the chamber determines Miller-Meeks was the winner, Iowa’s House delegation will be made up of three Republicans and one Democrat, a mirror image of the partisan control just two years ago, when Democrats unseated multiple incumbents.

In a written statement, Miller-Meeks said she intends to focus on pandemic recovery and a reopening of the economy and public schools.

“I will not let partisan gamesmanship stand in my way to deliver results for the people of Iowa,” Miller-Meeks’ statement reads in part. “Iowans sent me to Congress to fight for them and I am determined to fulfill that wish. Now is the time to put the 2020 election behind us, unite our country, and work together to tackle the pressing issues that face our country.”

In the 4th Congressional District, Feenstra unseated King in the Republican primary, forcing out the longtime representative who had lost his committee assignments due to his racist remarks.

“Guided by faith and family, it is my solemn promise to Iowans that I will defend the Constitution of the United States and faithfully discharge my duties as a United States Rep.,” Feenstra tweeted about his swearing-in.

While Trump lost the presidential election, netting 232 Electoral College votes to President-elect Joe Biden’s 306, questions remain about his role in the Republican party going forward and how Republicans who rode his coattails to Congress will respond.

One of the first issues the 117th Congress will take up is the counting of the Electoral College results on Jan. 6. Typically a ceremonial process, this year Republican members of Congress are pledging to challenge the results, echoing baseless claims of election fraud pushed by Trump, despite the fact that there was no widespread fraud in the 2020 elections, and the results have been certified by local and state officials and affirmed by dozens of court rulings.

As NPR has reported, the attempts will not prevent Biden from assuming the presidency, but will likely extend a process that is normally a formality. University of Northern Iowa political scientist Donna Hoffman told IPR that a challenge would almost certainly fail.

“It’s all really very symbolic in many ways, because at the end of the day, we would put the odds at something happening here, where Joe Biden is not certified here, as very, very, very minute,” Hoffman said.

As far as the Republican members of the state's new congressional delegation, she says their relationship to Trump and his supporters, who helped push them over the top, may prove a political challenge depending on his role in the future of the GOP.

If you're a Republican House member, "you may want to hide in the corner in some respects," Hoffman said. "There’s a lot of time that passes before even the next midterm election when of course all of them will be up. And certainly two more years before the next presidential election. And the conditions right now in this country, related both to elections but also in terms of governing, is extremely fluid."

Hoffman says the best bet for Iowa's freshmen Republican Representatives, still working to hire staff, open offices and find their footing in Washington, may be to focus on constituent services, especially at a time when they're in the minority.

"That's what freshmen in particular need to be focusing on, doing that work for the people of Iowa. And then seeing what the lay of the land looks like as we get closer to a midterm, as we get closer to the next presidential election," Hoffman said. "Because as we know, just looking at 2016 and the midterm of 2018, a lot of things changed."

Editor's Note: this post was updated at 4:30 p.m. on Monday Jan. 4.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter