A House Democrat vying for reelection in one of Virginia’s most competitive districts invested in China while later painting the country as a deeply concerning national security threat.
Rep. Elaine Luria and her husband Robert Blondin held between $250,001 and $500,000 in Alibaba Group Holding Limited stock when she first arrived in Congress, after flipping her coastal Virginia district, once a Republican stronghold, by 2 percentage points in 2018.
Luria’s Alibaba stake has been put under the political microscope as presidential and congressional candidates’ ties to China are examined due to tensions over the COVID-19 pandemic.
The multinational behemoth’s failure to crack down on the peddling of ripped-off American brands has earned it stinging rebukes from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and other arms of the Trump administration, particularly when the president and his aides were negotiating the first phase of their trade deal with China.
“For all practical purposes, these e-commerce hubs are basically laundries for counterfeiting,” White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said in January while announcing a plan to go after purveyors of fake products.
Counterfeit goods aren’t just bad for the economy, they’re having detrimental effects on the country’s health when those products are fake Juul pods or other vape pen hardware and cartridges. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked the merchandise to lung-related illnesses and deaths, especially if laced with THC, the ingredient in marijuana that triggers its high.
A Luria spokeswoman didn’t respond to the Washington Examiner’s inquiries regarding more recent financial information to see whether she and Blondin still held the stock.
Luria won her Virginia Beach-based district in 2018 by beating first-term Republican Rep. Scott Taylor. In the June 23 Republican primary, Taylor faces several rivals in a bid to reclaim his old seat, setting up a possible fall rematch against Luria. President Trump in 2016 beat Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the district 48%-45%.
Luria isn’t the only lawmaker on Capitol Hill who has invested in Alibaba, according to 2018 disclosure filings, the latest data given the 2019 deadline was pushed back to August because of the coronavirus outbreak. Examples come from both sides of the political aisle, including Alabama Republican Rep. Martha Roby, with a range of amounts contributed directly or indirectly. The retiring congresswoman, first elected in 2010, held between $1,001 and $15,000, as well as between $15,001 and $50,000, in Alibaba stock through two separate trust accounts in 2018.
Yet Luria, a 20-year Navy veteran who retired in 2017 as a commander, has been vocal in her belief that China poses a national security risk.
The “security Democrat,” representing Virginia Beach and Williamsburg, as well as parts of Norfolk and Hampton, has repeatedly described China as a threat that needs to be taken “seriously.”
“We have to … make sure that the world as we know it today does not become a world where China has the influence that America and American values has today,” she said last November during a constituent event.
In February, Luria, who was the first woman sailor to serve her entire naval career on combat ships, also split with her party when the House voted to impose restrictions on vaping product marketers targeting young people and to prohibit the selling of flavored e-cigarette.
“The Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act approaches the youth nicotine problem in the wrong way,” she said at the time. “As one of the 16 Democrats opposing this bill, I believe it is government overreach to ban the sale of popular tobacco products. I would prefer to see an approach that limits youth access to tobacco and nicotine-delivery products through stricter regulations on sales to minors, campaigns to deglamorize tobacco to youth and clear health warnings.”
Earlier this month, it was revealed the family of Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, from the Texas district northwest of Houston, recently bought $50,000 to $100,000 worth of shares in Chinese technology giant Tencent Holdings.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s top GOP lawmaker has invested in Tencent for years, but the February purchase coincides with his appointment as chairman of a Republican-led “China Task Force” addressing “the Chinese Communist Party’s malign global agenda” ahead of the fall fight.