With Lowey and Engel departing, Elaine Luria says she’ll be stepping up
One of the most frequent questions Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) receives from constituents in Virginia’s 2nd congressional district is: “Is it as crazy in Washington as we see on TV?”
Her typical answer, Luria told Jewish Insider,,is that while it might seem like there is no real opportunity for positive change in Congress, she has managed to find common ground with members across the political spectrum to pass legislation that matters to all.
And while she is only a freshman member in Congress, Luria had the third highest number of bills signed into law by President Donald Trump among her colleagues on Capitol Hill last year. “It kind of shows that the process can work, and that there are lots of things that we can do that are not controversial where we can find common ground,” Luria told JI in a recent interview. “So when I talk to people about that, the bipartisan work I’ve done is hopefully somewhat reassuring.”
Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Luria spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy, ultimately rising to the rank of commander. She served on six different ships and was deployed six times, operating nuclear reactors and on aircraft carriers.
Luria, 45, was first elected in 2018 as part of a blue wave that flipped districts that had voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, beating first-term incumbent Republican Rep. Scott Taylor with 51% of the vote. This year, her district is considered a toss-up, according to the Cook Political Report, and she will once again face Taylor.
While Luria voted for Trump’s impeachment last year, she has aligned herself with the president when it comes to his policy on Israel and — as a member of the House Bipartisan Task Force For Combating Anti-Semitism — she has been an outspoken critic of the far-left wing of the Democratic Party. Luria was one of 12 House Democrats who broke party ranks last year to vote in favor of a Republican motion to recommit on anti-BDS legislation that would allow state and local governments to adopt laws to divest public funds from entities that boycott Israel.
She is also only one of a handful of Democrats who have attended Trump White House events, including the signing of Trump’s executive order to combat antisemitism on campus, and more recently, the Abraham Accords signing ceremony between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, along with Bahrain. “I was honored to join President Trump at the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords, marking a new era in regional security and cooperation in the Middle East,” Luria told JI after the event. “I commend President Trump on his leadership to make this milestone a reality,” she added.
While Luria claims she does not agree with everything Trump has done, she noted she is “willing to literally stand behind him on the stage while he does support an effort that I do agree with.” Luria added she would love “to see more bipartisanship and more opportunity to work together to get the things done that we all agree on.”
In an interview last year, Luria told The Washington Post that her Jewish faith inspired her to take a position on impeachment and to speak up in defense of Israel and against antisemitism.
“I did not necessarily anticipate going in to be a representative in the House that I would need to be as vocal about these things,” Luria told JI. Her debut speech on the House floor was during a debate over a resolution against hate, widely considered to be watered-down, following Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-MN) comments regarding lawmakers’ support for Israel. Luria quipped that her remarks, decrying the dual loyalty label by pointing to her faith and past experience, sounded like an adapted version of the Passover song “Dayenu.” While she felt “discouraged” that the measure was diluted in the process, Luria said she felt it was important for her to use that opportunity to “speak up against antisemitism.”
Luria maintained that with the retirement of longtime Democratic members like Reps. Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel of New York, and the addition of some newly successful far-left candidates, “I think that it’s much more important that I stay and come back to Congress as a strong voice to counter people who certainly speak up with different views than mine.”
Last year, Luria reached out to Omar to discuss Israel and antisemitism. And while those meetings were not “as productive as I hoped for, I will always continue to try to do that,” Luria said, adding that she will “redouble” her efforts to engage with new members about issues of importance to the Jewish community.
Luria is also one of the few House Democrats who didn’t sign on to letters expressing opposition to possible Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank. A House letter sent to Israeli leaders, signed by 191 House Democrats and backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), warned that annexation would undermine the two-state solution. Luria told JI she “deliberately chose to not sign on to that letter,” because she believes it’s not the job of a member of Congress to be weighing in on Israeli government decisions, or to be “doing anything that would erode the very strong relationship that we have between the U.S. and Israel.”
Luria was an early supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, endorsing the now-Democratic nominee back in January. “I know that Joe Biden is a very strong supporter of Israel. He stood up to antisemitism during his very long career serving in the Senate and he believes in standing up against the BDS movement,” she said. The only place she differs with her party’s standard-bearer is on his commitment to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. “I know that that is something that I’m not 100% aligned with him on, but I think that overwhelmingly his positions, both for domestic policy and support of the U.S.-Israel relationship, [are] something I do align with.”
Luria, along with fellow freshmen Reps. Max Rose (D-NY) and Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), are part of the “Gang of Nine,” moderate Democrats with national security backgrounds.
In 2018, during a campaign stop, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) introduced Luria and expressed in amazement how “this Jewish girl from Alabama,” who served 20 years in the Navy, commanding a combat unit of 400 sailors, was going to be a congresswoman. Recalling that moment, Luria laughed that she might indeed be an unusual candidate for office. “I guess there are not many Jewish girls from Alabama who go to the Naval Academy and then end up in Congress,” she said. “But I feel it’s just a continuation of my service, and I feel a great responsibility to preserve my heritage and serve my constituents well.”
Two veterans face off in Virginia’s 10th district GOP primary
Two military veterans in Virginia are hoping that serving in Congress will become their next mission.
Victory this November will be an uphill battle for the winner of the Republican primary in the state’s 10th congressional district, which was flipped blue when Rep. Jennifer Wexton unseated two-term incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) in 2018. Now Republicans in the district are looking to reclaim the seat.
Jeff Dove, who deployed to Iraq as an Army chemical operations specialist, and Rob Jones, who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine combat engineer tasked with identifying IEDs, are considered top contenders for the nomination. Both men said their military service has shaped them, and their political aspirations, in fundamental ways.
“In the Marine Corps, I learned to be a person that took responsibility for the things that are important to them,” Jones, who lost both legs above the knee in an IED explosion and went on to become a paralympian and advocate for disabled veterans, told Jewish Insider. He said that after studying Wexton’s background and record, “I set my sights on a new mission to return conservative leadership back to my home on behalf of my home and on behalf of my family.”
Dove told JI that “one of the things that I learned while serving in Iraq was, don’t take anything for granted.” He recounted memories of distributing school supplies to Iraqi schoolchildren. “Going to Iraq and going and being in war makes me think twice about reasons why we go and fight. I don’t necessarily think that we should be getting involved in every single conflict out there.”
This is not Dove’s first congressional run — in 2018, he challenged longtime Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) in the neighboring 11th district, losing by nearly 44 points. Despite that loss, Dove said going toe-to-toe with a prominent Democrat like Connolly, who has won by significant margins against Republican opponents since redistricting in 2010 turned the district solidly blue, helped him identify his party’s weaknesses in campaigning, and prepared him to discuss and debate major issues.
Wexton won by more than 10 points in 2018, has stronger name recognition than either Republican and is better funded than her opponents. Jones has $77,000 on hand and Dove has $41,000, while Wexton has $1.8 million. Jones and Dove have both spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their primary campaigns.
Given that the district is a long shot with an expensive media market, neither Republican should expect much additional investment in his campaign, John McGlennon, a professor of government at Virginia’s College of William & Mary, told JI.
“That district has been trending Democratic at a very fast pace, and I don’t see it turning around in this election,” he said.
But this is not Jones’s first battle against difficult circumstances — he fought to survive a gruesome injury and remain physically active and mobile following the amputation of his legs.
“When I first got wounded, a lot of people would struggle with that, with this drastic change in their life circumstances,” he said. “But one of the things I realized early on was my mom was going to be devastated, and so what was best for her was that I be fine, that I be okay with my injury. Because of that, I think it forced me to rise to the occasion.”
Since leaving the military, Jones has become an activist for wounded veterans, raising money through athletic achievements. He bicycled across the country, from Maine to San Diego, in 2013 and 2014, and ran 31 marathons on 31 consecutive days in different cities around the world in 2017.
“I was in this position where I felt this desire to continue to serve my fellow Marines and continue to serve my country in some capacity,” he said of the marathons. “I didn’t see any of the stories [in the media] where there was this kind of post-traumatic growth after coming back from the war. And so I wanted to make sure that both sides of that coin were told.”
Dove would also bring a unique perspective to Congress if he is elected. With Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) retiring, Dove could become the only black Republican in the House.
Dove is sharply critical of the way Democratic politicians address the black community. “It’s a shame that politicians on the Democratic side feel they need to do something… to show that they’re so called ‘down with the struggle,’” he said, referencing the announcement made by Democrats last week regarding a police reform package, which the party’s leaders made while wearing stoles with a traditional Ghanaian pattern.
“And also they seem to like to talk to us in a certain way to make it seem like we’re not intelligent enough to handle normal English speech,” Dove added, focusing on Joe Biden’s controversial appearance on “The Breakfast Club” radio show. “It’s all pandering and it’s ridiculous. We don’t want to be talked at. The black community wants to be talked to, and heard.”
Dove blames the controversial 1994 crime bill for many of the issues regarding policing in black communities, noting that law enforcement became more aggressive toward black Americans following the legislation’s introduction into law. “When I was in high school, that legislation was first put in place,” he said. “And we could see the difference in how police reacted to us.”
Dove added that, although he has personally had negative experiences with police, including being pulled over and handcuffed, he does not see all police officers as an issue. “I think 99.9% of law enforcement is here to protect and serve us like they’re supposed to,” he said.
Dove praised the bipartisan First Step Act, which reformed federal prisons and sentencing, as a positive move toward meaningful criminal justice reform, and added that he wants to see more portions of the 1994 crime bill repealed. He also said he wants police to be better integrated into the communities they serve, rather than holding what he called an “us versus them mentality.”
He suggested that relations between law enforcement and communities could be strengthened with more direct outreach that brings police closer to the communities they serve.
It’s a mindset that can also be applied to his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dove suggested that the parties need to directly engage in order to move forward.
Dove said he supports a two-state solution, but, “it’s ultimately not going to be our decision. It’s going to be the parties involved… They’re going to have to come together at some point and end this fighting. Because it’s not beneficial for either side to continue.”
Still, the Army veteran sees a role for the U.S. in the peace process — as a mediator in the conflict “making sure that both sides are at the table and continuing discussions and making sure no one is taking too much advantage of the other.”
Jones largely agrees. He also supports a two-state solution, and said the U.S. should “help them come to a solution between the two of them that both of them can be happy with.”
Republicans in the 10th district will pick their nominee at a drive-through convention this Saturday at Shenandoah University, where only pre-registered delegates will be permitted to vote. Also in the race are Matthew Truong, who emigrated from Vietnam at age 12 and built a career in the tech world, and Marine veteran Aliscia Andrews. The convention was originally scheduled for May 30, but delayed due to the coronavirus. A similar convention last Saturday in Virginia’s 5th district has raised significant controversy, but Saturday’s convention in Winchester is expected to go smoothly.
Jones, who announced his candidacy on the ninth anniversary of the attack that took his legs, is confident that delegates will pick the best person for the job — and that he is that person.
“I think the biggest thing is selflessness, acting on the best interests of people that you care about, places that you care about, things that you care about,” he said. “[That] is the key to overcoming anything and accomplishing anything in life.”