The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In unusual video, Luria explains her support for impeachment, takes on Trump

U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) speaks with Laura Tierney (left) and her mother, Heather, after a town hall at New Hope Baptist Church in Virginia Beach on Oct. 3. Laura, a high school senior, asked a question about school safety during the event. (Parker Michels-Boyce/For The Washington Post)

As the nation tunes into impeachment hearings into President Trump, U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria is circulating an unusual, cinematic video that lays out her support for the proceedings — a perilous position for a Democrat from a Virginia Beach district that Trump carried in 2016.

In the 2½-minute video, Luria recites the oath to protect the Constitution that she took six times during 20 years in the Navy and a seventh time in January when she was sworn in to Congress — a sacred promise that she said resonates with her military-heavy district.

The video, which has been viewed 1.8 million times since its release on Veterans Day, is Luria’s attempt to inoculate herself against attacks from Trump supporters. Republican candidates have begun to line up to run against her in a swing district Trump won by five points.

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) released a video on Veterans Day explaining why she supports the impeachment inquiry of President Trump. (Video: Elaine Luria)

But there’s little reason to think Trump voters will be swayed by Luria’s video, said Mark Rozell, dean of George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government.

“There has not been a significant amount of movement among Trump supporters over the course of his presidency,” he said. “It’s risky politically, but she knows that. I think she looked in to her heart of hearts and decided there’s something much bigger at stake here than her own political survival.”

She faces challenges from Republican Ben Loyola, a retired Navy captain and defense contractor who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2010, and lesser-known candidates Andy Baan and Jarome Bell. Other GOP candidates are also expected to join the race for the nomination, which will be decided by a primary.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Samantha Cotten said the congresswoman “no longer cares about representing Virginians in Washington” and “broke her campaign promises to become a puppet of Nancy Pelosi and the socialist squad” because she supports the “baseless impeachment charade.”

A former Navy commander, Luria was one of the first-time Democratic candidates who unseated Republicans in 2018 to help Democrats win control of the House.

She is one of several congresswomen with national security backgrounds who co-wrote an op-ed declaring their support for an impeachment inquiry, following the revelations about Trump’s phone call to the Ukrainian president. The next day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) emerged from a closed-door meeting with Democrats to announce a formal impeachment inquiry.

Luria has defended her decision on TV and in town halls, but she decided a video was the best way to explain herself to her constituents, many of whom have taken the oath themselves.

It’s about “not being afraid to own the fact that this is what I believe,” Luria said in an interview. “I believe that we’re doing the right thing. I may be more forward-leaning than some of my colleagues in talking about it, but I truly think it’s the right thing.”

Luria said she believes the president violated his oath when he solicited the help of the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden’s son Hunter and withheld aid from a U.S. ally that depended on it. That put national security at risk, she said.

The video begins with Luria reciting the oath she first took at age 17 when she enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and each time she was promoted.

A World War II veteran in his 90s displays a medal. The camera lingers on Luria’s gold U.S. Naval Academy class ring. She grips a Hebrew bible engraved with her name that she received in 10th grade.

The tone shifts and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow says, “It is making people sit up and take notice,” when introducing Luria as her guest the night the op-ed was published.

Luria reads the oath she took when she was sworn into office, but in backward order to emphasize the meaning of the words, as a CNN news reel details Trump’s alleged wrongdoing.

There’s Rudolph W. Giuliani admitting he asked Ukraine to investigate Biden, a pro-Trump protester holding an “Impeach Luria” sign and sun-drenched war memorials from across her Virginia Beach district.

The video ends with Luria speaking at a town hall in Virginia Beach in October: “People might say: ‘Well, why would you do that? You might not be reelected.’ I don’t care, because I did the right thing.”

In addition to trying to preempt GOP attacks,The video is part of a relatively new fundraising strategy, said Cayce McCabe of Putnam Partners, who produced the spot and is Luria’s media consultant. It cost between $40,000 and $50,000 to create, he said.

Luria’s campaign spent about $5,000 to promote her video on Facebook and Twitter and has received donations in the tens of thousands of dollars.

McCabe created one of the most talked-about videos of the 2018 election, “Doors,” for M.J. Hegar, an Air Force combat veteran who lost her Texas congressional race and is now running for Senate. It was viewed 5 million times and helped her raise $5 million, he said.

McCabe’s partner and firm founder Mark Putnam made viral videos for Amy McGrath, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who lost a Kentucky congressional race and is challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and former CIA officer Valerie Plame, who is running for Congress in New Mexico.

Luria’s video was inspired in part by reversible poems that can be read forward and backward, McCabe said.

“I wanted the words of the oath to be the message,” he said.

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