For Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, whose Virginia district includes the world's largest naval base, a recent swing included boarding an amphibious assault ship for a NATO ceremony and a speech by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"The congresswoman right in front of me asks tough question all the time, pins mine ears against the wall about many, many topics," Gen. Mark Milley said to a recent audience aboard the USS Kearsarge. This was a reference Luria's interrogation of him regarding military readiness during committee meetings.
Luria will be asking tough questions about a topic that could prove even more sensitive to the military, namely why veterans were involved in the Jan. 6, insurrection. Luria, a 20-year veteran of naval combat and a nuclear-trained surface warfare officer, commanded 400 crewmembers on the Persian Gulf. She is now joining House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s special committee to investigate the mob attack against the U.S. Capitol.
Luria, 45 years old, stated that she brings "an additional perspective" in an interview at Naval Station Norfolk. This is where the Kearsarge, along with about 75 other ships, dock. She may end up being the lone member with military experience on the panel after most Republicans said they'd boycott following Pelosi's objecting to the appointment of two GOP lawmakers, including a Navy veteran.
Luria pointed out the high number misinformation campaigns online targeting veterans. She also said that many participants have spoken out about feeling politically and socially marginalized.
Luria stated that "as long as there is a large group of people living in this country that feel the only way to have their voice heard is by being violent, then there's a chance of this happening again."
According to George Washington University's Program on Extremism, 55 of the 547 people charged federally in connection with the insurrection, or 10%, have military experience -- compared with a bit less than 7% of the population at large who are veterans. Oath Keepers is an extremist group that recruits former military personnel and law enforcement officers as well as first responders. This case is one of the most serious.
Luria heads a subcommittee on the House Veterans Affairs Committee that has been investigating the attack. Luria is the head of a subcommittee on the House Veterans Affairs Committee that has been investigating extremist recruitment of military personnel. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin took the unusual step of ordering a militarywide "stand down" to allow troops time to discuss extremism that could be growing within their ranks.
Carolyn Gallaher, an American University professor who studies right-wing paramilitaries, said that the military is a bureaucratic giant. There are certainly people who want to do something. It will depend on how powerful and how adept they can get the military bureaucracy's levers to do what they want.
Luria's district, which has 40% of its economy linked to the Navy and Defense Department, would be a good fit for a deeper investigation into Jan. 6's events. The assignment could pose serious political risks to Luria's chief congressional identification, which is also the champion of all things Navy/National Security -- that of a centrist who worked to improve her bipartisan credentials as well as pursue policy goals across the ideological spectrum.
"I consider myself to be moderate. I served 20 years in the Navy. I didn't care much about politics. Luria said that she voted for Scott Taylor in 2016, the man against whom I ran in 18". Taylor is a former Navy SEAL and was reelected in 2020.
Many Republicans dismiss the Jan.6 committee as a political ploy. This means that the Democrats involved will be under pressure to push for larger goals pushed by their party's leadership.
This could make it difficult to stay moderate and mark a departure from Luria who, under former President Donald Trump's leadership, passed numerous pieces of legislation, including tax relief for Gold Star families. But she also helped lead 2019 calls from House Democrats with national security backgrounds for an inquiry that helped Trump's first impeachment come to fruition.
Luria is a cosponsor of progressive-championed efforts to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Luria is also a vocal pro-Israeli supporter, even though her party's left has criticised the country for its recent Gaza conflict.
And she was the only House Democrat to oppose repealing Congress' 2002 authorization for use of military force in Iraq. Luria stated that she opposed the repeal of a similar authorization to use military force in Afghanistan. She said there wasn't enough discussion about what Congress should replace them. Luria argues that this is dangerous considering the threat of foreign terrorists.
In an age of redistricting, proud House moderates are scarce. Their territories aren’t too ideological in favor of one party. Luria's 2nd Congressional district ranks No. 217 on the nonpartisan Cook Political Report's political voting index. This makes it the median of the most-Democratic and most-Republican House seats in the country -- effectively, the country's most swing district.
Luria's district includes Virginia Beach, the largest city in Virginia, and the rural Eastern Shore. While Luria voted for Trump in 2016, the district voted blue last November when Joe Biden became first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia Beach since 1964.
Luria may still face a difficult reelection task as Democrats hold onto their six-seat House majority. Taylor, a former congressman who lost against Luria said that Taylor's long military career gives her ideological cover.
"If you are a veteran and a Democrat, then you might get a little more of the benefit of doubt. Taylor stated that you are not going to be very far left. "Never mind what your vote is."
Luria was asked by Virginia Beach residents about whether the insurrection at the Capitol was just a prelude to a larger attack. Luria cited the Jan.6 committee and said, "This is too crucial not to do something."
Luria stated, "I believe we must do this in an impartial and nonpartisan manner."
Luria compared being on Jan. 6 to serving on an aircraft carrier launching simultaneous strikes on foreign terrorist targets, in Iraq and Afghanistan. She also noted that she didn't turn to the sailor beside her operating a nuclear reactor to ask: "Are you a Democrat?" Are you a Republican?'"
While she acknowledges that critics will still make her participation a possible line of attack in 2022, she shrugs it off as something that is common in Congress today.
She laughed and said, "You can't help a preschool plant trees."