The midterm election victories of congresswomen Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) and Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) were notable for many reasons. Surviving bruising campaigns, they now emerge as key centrist Democratic voices in the next Congress.
Slotkin and Spanberger know how to “speak Republican.” They can work directly with Mike Turner, the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and with Michael McCaul, the incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. That’s good news. McCaul is a strong proponent of doing even more for Ukraine than the Biden administration. Spanberger and Slotkin should also work well with Mike Gallagher and Mike Waltz, both veterans who also believe that Ukraine needs strong U.S. assistance. Gallagher and Waltz also see China as the greatest long-term threat to the U.S.
But Ukraine is where Spanberger and Slotkin should be able to make the most impact.
They have strongly supported continued U.S. armament assistance to Kyiv and understand the clear threat from Russia. This will be important in the next Congress, as more fringe elements of the GOP have vocally opposed further U.S. aid to Ukraine. It remains uncertain how resolute the new GOP House leadership will be in fending off such sentiments. On the other side of the aisle, Democratic leftists may make another push for a negotiated settlement. We saw this in a letter that leftists, including members of the so-called “Squad,” sent to the White House (and then retracted) several months ago. Centrist Democrats must resist any calls for a Russia-concessionary stance in future negotiations. Ukraine must decide when to come to the peace table, not armchair quarterbacks in Washington.
My hope is that Slotkin and Spanberger, along with their like-minded GOP colleagues, should play a key role in keeping vital military and economic assistance flowing to Ukraine. But there are other reasons to look optimistically at these two representatives. Former CIA officers with national security bonafide, they have staked out centrist positions within the Democratic Party. They rejected the call to defund the police, have bipartisan voting records, and have resisted leftists in their party. They are also known for their constituent services; they did not appear to be creatures of the Washington limelight but instead spent time in their districts and listened to voters. Moreover, both have demonstrated an ability to win tough races. It is thus time to change the narrative on Slotkin and Spanberger. Do not define them as “future” stars of the Democratic Party, but rather politicians whose time is now.
The “Generation Z” turnout in this most recent election makes it clear that torches need to be passed. Spanberger and Slotkin should be considered for key committee assignments. Why are neither on the House Intelligence Committee? New Democratic House leader Hakeem Jeffries needs to fix this quickly. It is hard to believe that two former CIA officers do not sit on the most critical panel that conducts oversight over the intelligence community!
The top line, however, is clear. We’re lucky to have highly responsible members of both parties with strong national security backgrounds in office. Even in the oft-fractious House, bipartisanship likely remains possible on the most important of all responsibilities: protecting America and our ideals.
Marc Polymeropoulos is a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. A former CIA senior operations officer, he retired in 2019 after a 26-year career serving in the Near East and South Asia. His book Clarity in Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the CIA was published in June 2021 by Harper Collins.