Ascendant Democratic Warhawk Wants to Pre-Authorize War With China

Virginia Democrat Rep. Elaine Luria, who early this year was elevated within the House Armed Services Committee, wants Congress to pre-authorize President Biden to take military action to defend Taiwan against China.

“The president has no legal authority to react in the time necessary to repel a Chinese invasion of Taiwan and deter an all-out war,” Luria, a 20-year Navy veteran, wrote in an op-ed published by the Washington Post this week. “If the president’s hands remain legally tied in preventing Chinese military action against Taiwan, then an even larger conflict with China is most certainly assured.”

As Luria notes in her article, Republican lawmakers agree with her that Congress, which has the power to authorize war by the U.S. Constitution, should cede its war powers on this matter to the president. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) have introduced a bill called the Taiwan Invasion Prevention Act that would authorize the president “to use the Armed Forces of the United States and take such other measures as the President determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to secure and protect Taiwan” against China. The measure had 18 House Republican co-sponsors in the previous Congress.

At the Quincy Institute’s website Responsible Statecraft, attorney Elizabeth Beavers wrote that Luria’s proposal “rests on a fantasy of American exceptionalism in which the United States can and must lead Taiwan to a military victory against Chinese invasion.

“It also defies logic to suggest that such an authorization would deter or prevent large-scale conflict, as it would surely be seen as a provocation by China. By establishing an overly-available military option, Congress would be setting in motion a chain of events that could hamper diplomatic possibilities and make war between two nuclear powers all the more likely.”

Luria has been in Congress since 2019 and she is rapidly gaining foreign policy influence in the Democratic caucus. She was seated this session on the Armed Services Committee’s Readiness Subcommittee and the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over acquisition and procurement of items like military ships and submarine-launched weapons. She was also elected in February as the vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee, a committee leadership position that suggests she has the confidence of the chairman, hawkish Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.).

Defense contractors’ PACs donated $42,750 to Luria’s campaigns from January 2019 to June 30, 2021. When she was first a candidate for Congress during the 2018 cycle, Luria promised voters in her district that she would not take donations from corporate PACs, taking a pledge organized by End Citizens United, but she quietly backed out of the pledge in late 2020, when she took funds from the PACs of defense contractors including BAE Systems, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Rolls-Royce North America, which she kept for herself as payback for money she had loaned her campaign.

Luria’s office defended the decision to withdraw from the “No Corporate PAC Money” pledge by saying to the Virginian-Pilot of the corporate PACs she is now taking money from that “all these PAC funds come from individual small dollar contributions from employees.” But a review of campaign finance data from Code for Democracy reveals that since 2019, the PACs of the top five defense companies, all of which have donated to Luria besides Northrop Grumman’s, have received donations of at least $1,000 from 332 senior executives and that the average amount that these executive-donors have given to them is $2,113. Forty defense executives, who told the FEC their titles included president, CEO, chairman, or director, have given their employers’ PACs more than $10,000 since 2019.