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Miller-Meeks joins record number of GOP women in Congress with swearing in Sunday
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Miller-Meeks joins record number of GOP women in Congress with swearing in Sunday

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Former Iowa state senator and Ottumwa Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who unveiled a new congressional Twitter account, joined a record number of House GOP women who were sworn in Sunday with the new 117th Congress.

A record number of women and racial minorities make the 117th Congress the most diverse in history, including a majority female Iowa congressional delegation.

"It's a real honor to be among this class of incoming members, and not solely because of their diversity or solely because they're women, but when you look at the women (on both sides of the aisle) ... you look at their resumes and these are people that are talented," Miller-Meeks told the Quad-City Times ahead of being provisionally sworn in to represents southeast Iowa's 2nd Congressional District.

Congresswoman-elect Mariannette Miller-Meeks says every legal vote was counted in tight Iowa 2nd Congressional District race, and Rita Hart had ample opportunity to appeal any discrepancies in court, rather than ask the U.S. House to intervene.

Any member of the House could have objected to Miller-Meeks being sworn in with the rest of the freshmen class. However, House Speak Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., last week announced she would provisionally seat Miller-Meeks while Democrat Rita Hart of Wheatland continues to contest the election results.

Miller-Meeks defeated Hart by just six votes after a bipartisan state canvassing board certified the election results following a district-wide recount in all 24 counties. Hart contends 22 ballots were unlawfully excluded from the certified election results. Hart and her attorneys, too, argue thousands of ballots with recorded under and over votes were not examined for voter intent, due to a "haphazard" recount that was marred by errors, discrepancies and inconsistencies in how ballots were reviewed from county to county.

Hart formally filed her challenge with the U.S. House on Dec. 22 under the Federal Contested Election Act.

"As this provisional seating makes clear, we will not know who won this race until all votes have been counted," Hart said in a statement Sunday. "It is most important that we get this right and that the candidate who has received the most votes is seated.

Allowing Miller-Meeks to take office does not preclude the House from potentially overturning the state's certified election results and later seating Hart pending the outcome of a House review of her election challenge. 

"To those whose support I have yet to earn, I will listen to you, I will fight for you, and I will work to be your representative too," Miller-Meeks said in a statement Sunday.

She pledged to help Iowa workers and businesses get back to work "and to get our children safely back to school." Miller-Meeks said she will work for efforts that will ensure affordable and accessible health care, lower the cost of prescription drugs, create higher take-home pay for working families, and support trade deals "that are fair for Iowa farmers and manufacturers."

"I will not let partisan gamesmanship stand in my way to deliver results for the people of Iowa," she said. "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.”

After 14 years representing southeast Iowa, Dave Loebsack is retiring. The Iowa Democrat and college professor sat down with the Quad-City Times to reflect on his political career.

Miller-Meeks said the new crop of House members bring "a bevy of intelligence", "robust resumes", accomplishments and life experiences.

"These are women who have merit and the women that I have met have all earned the right to be in Congress," she said. "And it's very humbling to be part of that group."

The 65-year-old ophthalmologist left home at age 16 after being severely burned in a kitchen fire, worked her way through college to earn her nursing degree, enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 18 where she served for 24 years, became a doctor, led the Iowa Department of Public Health under former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and served in the Iowa Senate.

With her swearing in, Miller-Meeks, who ran for Congress four times, became the first woman to represent the district, replacing retiring Democratic incumbent Rep. Dave Loebsack, who left office Saturday after serving seven terms. Loebsack has called on the House to consider Democrat Rita Hart's challenge in one of closest congressional races in the past century and the tightest federal race in decades.

Miller-Meeks said she is hopeful the diverse class of female freshmen will lend itself to more bipartisanship in a divided Congress, with narrow margins in both the House and Senate.

"I think there are avenues and things that we can agree on, and I think there is an appetite to work together and accomplish that," Miller-Meeks said. "I think you especially see that in the women legislators, but in all legislators. ... I do think we can accomplish things and we can, you know, move things in a bipartisan fashion."

She said that includes "getting through pandemic and preparing for the next pandemic"; "bringing manufacturing back from China" to address limited domestic stockpiles in medical supplies — including personal protective equipment (PPE) and pharmaceuticals — as the nation grapples with containing COVID-19; and pushing forward a long-stalled infrastructure spending bill to upgrade the nation's roads, bridges, locks and dams, and expand high-speed broadband internet service to rural and urban areas.

While being provisionally sworn in, Miller-Meeks said she will be "a fully functioning member of Congress, with all the same rights and privileges" of any other House member, including voting privileges and being assigned to House committees.

Miller-Meeks said her transition team has been slow in setting up district offices and hiring staff, given the haze of uncertainty that surrounds the outcome of the race. 

"We're trying to be very respectful of people and making them aware of the situation that we are in," but has said she remains hopeful "things will go very smoothly" to avoid interruption or disruption in constituent services and "residual casework."

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