Sensing an opening on national security issues, House Democrats are launching a new effort to counter President Donald Trump’s foreign policy.
A trio of junior lawmakers with military and Pentagon experience will announce on Tuesday the formation of a new national security task force to push back on policies coming from congressional Republicans and the White House.
The task force is being led by Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, a Marine Corps Iraq veteran who has received some early 2020 presidential buzz.
It’s both an outlet for out-of-power Democrats to showcase their ideas, as well as a recognition that Democrats continue to search for an effective message as they launch their midterm campaign and a wide-open field jostles for position heading into the 2020 presidential primary.
Before Trump’s victory in November, many Democrats were sure they had the upper hand on national security in the 2016 campaign with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton facing off against Trump.
But November’s Republican triumph has the Democratic Party out of power in all branches of government, so they are searching for a winning formula amid tensions between the liberal and moderate wings of the party. And national security has proven to be a vulnerable area for Democrats in early special election contests, with Republican groups hammering Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff over his national security credentials.
While Trump has scored high marks on some foreign policy issues — he was praised for launching airstrikes against the Syrian government — Democrats also sense clear opportunities in national security, such as taking a hawkish stance toward Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin.
“We’ve been right on a lot of national security issues, but we haven’t been leaders on this,” Moulton said in an interview. “In many ways, the Republican Party has taken the mantle of national security leadership, even though a lot of their decisions and policies have been detrimental.”
In addition to Moulton, the task force is being led freshmen Democrats Stephanie Murphy of Florida and Jimmy Panetta of California. Like Moulton, Panetta is Navy veteran who deployed overseas, while Murphy worked as a civilian at the Pentagon.
The three junior lawmakers took their idea to launch a national security task force to House Democratic leadership, and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley of New York is formally endorsing the endeavor.
The group has lined up former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to speak to members next week as its first event.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is already making veteran candidate recruitment a focus for the midterms, and Moulton said the new effort can be part of that Democratic outreach.
“That’s why you see so many veterans stepping out in 2018,” Moulton said. “They feel they’re doing this for their country, but doing it under the banner of the Democratic Party, because the party is well-prepared, well-positioned to offer an effective counter-balance to the dangerous Republican policies we hear coming out of the White House.”