on the hill

Luria: U.S. must include regional allies in Iran negotiations

Rep. Elaine Luria was recently selected as the vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee

Steve Helber/AP

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) speaks to participants at a USO event in Virginia Beach, Va., in 2019.

Two years into her tenure on Capitol Hill, Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA), a 20-year Navy veteran with the longest active-duty tenure of any current House Democrat, was tapped as the vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee.

“It’s an honor to be selected for that position by my peers,” Luria told Jewish Insider on Tuesday afternoon. “[Given] both my personal military background, the importance overall of national defense issues, and our district being home to eight major military installations, I am hopeful that I can contribute in the same way that my predecessor did to the work on the Armed Services Committee.”

Luria said the committee’s top priorities will include modernizing the nuclear triad; countering the threat of China by increasing the U.S. naval presence in the Western Pacific; maintaining and improving shipyard infrastructure; supporting recruitment, retention and veterans; and countering cyber threats.

And unlike the majority of her House Democratic colleagues, Luria does not support rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

“The Iran deal was a bad deal at the onset and actually set a course where Iran could obtain the components that they needed to create a nuclear weapon,” Luria said. “I don’t agree with the sunset clauses. I think that lifting sanctions on Iran allowed them to use those resources to fund other proxy groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.”

Although the Biden administration is seeking to rejoin the deal, Luria said she was encouraged by President Joe Biden’s recent pledge not to lift any U.S. sanctions until Iran first scales back its nuclear program.

“If we are going to come to the table with Iran, we need to make a deal that ensures that Iran does not have the path to acquiring or developing a nuclear weapon,” Luria said. “And I think that we need to do a better job of including our regional allies and partners in that discussion and agreement in the future.”

While the Armed Services Committee will not have much of a voice in the negotiating process, the retired Navy commander noted that the committee does oversee the military presence in the Persian Gulf. 

“How we use our military forces in response to Iran’s actions is certainly within the things that we talk about on the Armed Services Committee,” she said. “So I’ll continue to ask those questions and try to be part of those types of decisions.”

Luria said she does not have an issue with the Trump administration’s agreement to sell arms, including F-35 fighter jets, to the United Arab Emirates, a deal which the Biden administration put on hold for review. She explained that she was initially concerned about upholding Israel’s qualitative military edge, but was reassured by the Israeli government’s support of the sale.

The congresswoman added that she “does not see a problem in pausing and evaluating and trying to fully understand the implications of” the F-35 sale, noting that “putting a hold on it doesn’t mean that they won’t go through.”

Within the military’s ranks, recent reports that an outsize portion of the members of the mob that attacked the Capitol on January 6 are current or former military members have thrown into sharp focus the need to tackle extremism in the armed services. Luria praised Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for ordering commanding officers and supervisors to address the issue, but added that she does not see extremism as endemic within the military.

“In my personal experience serving 20 years, [extremism and white nationalism] were never tolerated,” Luria said. “And I had instances — for example, when I was an executive officer —  we had cases, including racism and anti-gay bias and immediately held those people accountable and actually separated them from the service for their actions.”

Luria did acknowledge, however, that the issue may have grown since she left the Navy in 2017.

“I’m cognizant of the fact that the military is a reflection of the rest of society and the country. People join the military from all around the country with all different types of views,” she said. “It appears that just as around the rest of the country, the number of people having these views has also grown within the military. And I think that the military should be held to a higher standard. And hope that commanding officers in today’s military do that in the same way that I did when I was in command.”

The Virginia congresswoman rejected proposals to place investigations of extremism within the military ranks in the hands of civilian law enforcement, but added that the committee will conduct strict oversight of the military to ensure that it continues to work to prevent and root out such attitudes within the ranks.

With the aim of helping service members and veterans, Luria, alongside Reps. Michael Waltz (R-FL), Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) and Susan Wild (D-PA) recently reintroduced a bill to establish a joint U.S.-Israel PTSD research grant program.

“There is great research going on in both countries that is looking to provide better care for those people who experienced that illness,” Luria said. “The opportunity for the U.S. and Israel to work together in a cooperative way and share their research is really meaningful and impactful, and I think furthers our security cooperation on another level.”

She is hopeful that the bill — which had 107 cosponsors in the previous House — will pick up enough support this time to pass in the current term.

At home, Luria has faced criticism following the 2020 election for accepting $34,000 in corporate PAC funding to pay down campaign debts. During the 2018 election, Luria had pledged not to take corporate PAC funding, although she made no similar pledge in 2020.

The congresswoman explained that she changed her position based on a new understanding of corporate PACs.

“When I was first a candidate in 2018, this issue was explained to me in a way that was misleading,” she said. “Corporate PACs are really corporate employee pooled funds where employees at a corporation provide that money in a very transparent way to their company’s PAC. And that is a way for them to participate in the political process.”

“It’s just a simple thing,” she added. “I changed my mind about this issue.”

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