“I understand that in the district I represent, the seat may typically be held by a Republican,” said Luria, who has been meeting with constituents during a two-week recess from Congress. “People would say: ‘Well, why would you do that? You might not be reelected.’ I don’t care, because I did the right thing.”
With that, much of the audience sprang to their feet and a grinning supporter started recording her on his phone. The gathering was heavy with Luria’s backers but some dissenters spoke out, others submitted written questions and Republicans staged a protest on the sidewalk outside the church that hosted the event.
The protest at Luria’s town hall and a similar event held Friday outside the Henrico district office of Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) are part of a coordinated effort from state and national Republicans to target Democrats who won red districts and support an impeachment inquiry.
The Republican National Committee created a campaign, called Stop the Madness, complete with a website as a clearinghouse for volunteers and protests, and spent $2 million in television and digital ads focused on more than 60 Democrats who Republicans say broke their promise to work with Trump.
“Within 10 months they’ve sort of jumped to the other side on the Nancy Pelosi, AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], socialist squad side and jumped in both feet saying it’s time to impeach the president,” Virginia GOP chairman Jack Wilson said of Spanberger and Luria. “We wanted to remind [Luria] what she told her constituents less than a year ago, and her constituents were watching.”
The congressional office that represents Virginia Beach, where the economy depends on the Navy and Department of Defense, has flipped back and forth between Democrats and Republicans over recent years, making it one of the state’s swingiest districts.
Luria, a former Navy commander, defeated incumbent Republican Scott W. Taylor in 2018 with help from voters turned off by President Trump and a local elections scandal that tarnished the reputation of her opponent, a former Navy SEAL.
Analysts say her race for reelection in 2020 could be among the most competitive in the nation. The congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC dedicated to electing Republicans to the U.S. House, started airing television ads this week targeting Luria and Reps. Matthew Cartwright (Pa.) and Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), Democrats who all hail from districts carried by Trump and who favor an impeachment inquiry. Luria does not yet have an opponent.
The town hall started with Luria standing onstage at the New Hope Baptist Church convocation center at a lectern draped with red, white and blue bunting.
She later stepped down to answer questions in four categories — impeachment, public safety, health care and general — written by audience members on index cards and pulled out of a box at random, a format that did not allow her to interact one on one with voters.
“Bravo to you on your brave, patriotic decision on the impeachment inquiry,” read the first question. It was followed by an enthusiastic 20-second standing ovation from most of the several hundred people in attendance. One man shouted his dismay.
Luria said it was a sad time for the nation, but her voice rose as she went on to say, “I didn’t spend 20 years defending our country in uniform to watch something like this happen and to watch and our Constitution be trampled on.” More applause followed.
The next questioner was critical of impeachment efforts and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Luria didn’t flinch. She explained why she believed Trump’s use of his office to pressure the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden was grounds for an impeachment inquiry.
“This is a clear instance of the president of the United States enlisting the help of a foreign leader to influence and malign a potential political opponent to affect the outcome of our next election all under guise of trying to fight corruption,” Luria said, speaking over another outburst from the same man in the audience.
The moderator, James H. Allen Jr., president of the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference, took over. “If you can’t sit here and be respectful, get out,” he said to the man.
“With all of the issues facing the country, why is it that the Democrat Party is focused on impeachment?” read another question.
“It’s not Adam Schiff and it’s not Democratic Party that got us here, it’s the actions of Donald Trump,” Luria replied, as the man shouted out.
Allen tried again: “You’re not going to come here and disrespect the congresswoman or our church. And if you have a problem with that, leave now. This is not your turn. Okay? Thank you.” He stayed and remained silent.
The next question accused her of a “rush to judgment.”
“Why would you seek to remove the president of the United States for nothing, no impeachable offenses, especially when your party is so guilty of so much?” read another. It’s time to “clean house,” the card said.
“We have elections every two years, so if you don’t like who is representing you, you can vote them out,” Luria said.
In all, Luria answered a rapid-fire series of about 15 questions and comments on impeachment, which broke evenly between fans and detractors. “Thank you” was written in large letters on one card, while another urged her to “get off the Pelosi bandwagon and stop this impeachment b.s.”
Outside, a Trump supporter who would only give her first name, Dena, out a fear of reprisals from her liberal neighbors, said she sees no reason to impeach Trump. She wore a “Make America Great Again” flag as a cape and a matching cap.
“My tax bill was a lot smaller this year. My brother didn’t have to pay the Obamacare penalty,” she said, listing ways she thinks Trump has improved the country.
As she spoke, a man leaving the town hall shouted out his window, “2020!” in support. “Woo hoo!” she said.
John Fredericks, a conservative radio host who spoke at the small protest on the sidewalk, called the event Luria’s “fairy tale town hall.” He predicted the president will come to the district once or twice next year to rally the base.
“The only hope she has is she wins by attrition. If there’s a viable candidate, she loses,” he said.
After the town hall, Allen, the moderator, said enough Democrats are incensed by the “treasonous” actions of the president to deliver Luria a second term.
“He’s an abomination, quite honestly,” said Allen, a Navy veteran. “Impeachment, [speaking] from a personal perspective, what took them so long?”
Many of the Democrats in the crowd said they volunteered for Luria’s 2018 campaign and plan to do all they can to help her win reelection.
That included Frank Lang, a former Navy reservist and retired psychologist from Virginia Beach who summed up Luria’s call for impeachment as “a courageous step — considering the district she represents.”