June 8, 2018

NIAC Action’s Voting Guide for the VA-10 Primary Elections

Washington, DC – One of the most hotly contested midterm elections in the country, the race for the Virginia 10 Congressional district, is considered a bellwether for Donald Trump’s chances of keeping his grip on Congress.

Comprised of Loudoun and Fairfax counties, VA-10 is home to one of the largest Iranian-American populations in the United States – with a community of over 6,000 Iranian Americans. Currently represented in Congress by Republican Barbara Comstock, the district has for years trended conservative. That changed in 2016 when VA-10 became one of 23 districts in the country where voters elected a Republican to Congress but favored Clinton over Trump for President – in this case by a whopping 10 point margin. This trend continued in the 2017 statewide elections in which voters overwhelmingly supported Democrats. Winning this seat is considered essential if Democrats are going to take the majority in the House.

On Tuesday, June 12, Virginia will hold its primaries and Democratic voters will decide who among a competitive field of hopeful challengers will go up against Rep. Comstock in the general election this fall. Earlier this year, NIAC Action questioned the leading candidates about their positions on issues important to our members. The candidates’ responses, and the incumbent’s positions on these issues, are summarized below.

Related: NIAC Action co-hosted a foreign policy candidate forum with leading Democratic candidates in VA-10.

The Candidates

Barbara Comstock (R): Barbara Comstock is the current Representative of Virginia’s 10th Congressional District. She previously served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 2010 to 2015, the Bush Administration, and worked as legal counsel for House Republicans during the impeachment of Bill Clinton. https://comstock.house.gov/

Allison Friedman (D): Friedman previously served in the State Department under the Obama Administration, working on issues focused on human rights, transportation infrastructure, and airport security. Friedman is the co-founder of a non-profit organization that combats human trafficking. https://alisonforvirginia.com/

Dan Helmer (D): Helmer is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and South Korea along with numerous domestic postings. He is a Rhodes Scholar and works as a business strategist advising private sector companies as well as US government agencies. https://www.helmerforcongress.com/

Lindsey Davis Stover (D): Stover is a small business owner who served as Chief of Staff to a Democratic lawmaker in the U.S. House and as a Senior Advisor in the Obama administration at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. https://lindseyforcongress.com/

Jennifer Wexton (D): Jennifer Wexton has served as the Virginia State Senator representing district 33 since 2014. She previously was Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney for Loudoun County and has worked in private practice and as a Special Justice in mental health commitment hearings.  https://jenniferwexton.com/

On the Muslim Ban

Congresswoman Comstock was initially critical of how Donald Trump’s first Muslim Ban was implemented but has refused to take a position on subsequent iterations of Muslim Ban. Comstock has declined to add her name to any of the multiple pieces of legislation that would rescind the ban but which have been stalled due to lack of Republican support.

Friedman: “Trump’s Muslim ban is wholly inconsistent with our values of open doors and immigration that enhances and enriches our country. Diversity — faith-based or otherwise — expands our understanding of the world and improves our culture. Trump’s Muslim ban is a racist and bigoted rejection of our promise of the American Dream. Furthermore, the ban does not make our country any safer. Country of citizenship is not a reliable indicator of terrorist activity, and the countries on the ban list are not even in line with the terrorism argument. In fact, closing our doors to certain nations and dividing families serves to radicalize more people, makes our country less safe, and weakens our standing in the eyes of the world.”

“I have spent much of my career mobilizing communities around policy issues. At People For the American Way, I led an effort against an anti-Muslim city council resolution and built a powerful coalition that led to apologies and retraction.  I worked closely with the Senate to to reject extreme judicial appointments, and at the State Department and then in a public-private partnership afterward, I developed deep relationships on both sides of the aisle. I am unique in this primary field in my understanding of both the processes and the people needed to protect our fundamental principles, and I have proven my ability to change minds on Constitutional values at both a local and federal level. I hope to take that experience to Congress and be an outspoken advocate of issues that affect the Iranian-American community. I would use my voice and my role as a Congresswoman to support any legal action against the ban, and would reach out to diaspora organizations and participate in demonstrations opposing the ban.”

Helmer: “I strongly oppose the Muslim ban.  It is illegal and contradicts our American values. I do not believe that the President’s Article II powers include the capacity to make categorical ethnic, religious, or nationality-based determinations of US-entry eligibility.  I will therefore support all efforts to limit the President’s authority to act unilaterally in matters related to immigration but not representing a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States.”

Stover: “The Muslim ban is reprehensible, discriminatory, and un-American. Not only does it unjustly target and malign harm [sic] American Muslims, it also betrays the rich diversity that makes our country strong. As a member of Congress, I will support legislation to rescind and defund the current version of the ban, as well as any other versions put forth. I will also reject any legislation that discriminates based on national origin or religion, and I will work across the aisle to sponsor legislation that safeguards anti-discrimination policies. Finally, I will prioritize passing or maintaining a clean DREAM Act, making clear that this country holds opportunity for all.”

Wexton: “I believe Donald Trump’s Muslim ban is not only unconstitutional, but racist, ineffective, and a hazard for our national security. Immediately after President Trump announced the Muslim Ban, I went to Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia, along with many other elected officials and activists, to protest its implementation. As a lawyer, I believe the ban is fundamentally unconstitutional. From a national security perspective this ban gives our enemies around the world a powerful propaganda and recruiting tool to use against us. Finally the ban is racist and unamerican. We are a nation of immigrants founded on religious liberty. Immigrants make enormous economic, cultural, and social contributions to America. We should be looking at how to welcome and integrate immigrants not ban them. As a member of Congress I will vote against any form of the Muslim ban and any other similar discriminatory policies. Furthermore I will use my platform as a US Congresswoman to speak out against the Muslim Ban and other forms of discrimination just like I do as a State Senator.”

On the Iran Deal

An endorsee of John Bolton’s PAC and Super PAC, Congresswoman Comstock opposed negotiations with Iran, voted to kill the Iran deal, and supported Trump’s efforts to withdraw from the agreement. “I commend the President for his decision to withdraw from the misguided ‘Iran deal’,” she said. “The ‘deal’, which had strong bipartisan opposition in 2015 has emboldened Iran to continue instability and funding of terrorism around the world, and provided them with billions of dollars through lifted sanctions.”

Friedman: “I believe the JCPOA is a vitally critical deal between the US and Iran that prevents Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, allows for continued Iranian growth, and prevents a costly and deadly war that the US cannot afford at this time or any other. I would vote against any efforts to remove the JCPOA, and would speak out firmly against any insincere voices that try to discredit its merits and importance to peace in the world.”

Helmer: “I am deeply committed to protecting our relationships within the Middle East.  I understand the JCPOA is critical for President Rouhani to produce peaceful change over time inside Iran and is essential for us preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon. I will oppose any efforts by this or future administrations to undermine the nuclear accord. Furthermore, I will work proactively with my Congressional colleagues to broaden the scope of US-Iranian relations.  Only when the economic, educational, cultural, and political institutions of our two countries begin to make progress toward building a functional relationship will the JCPOA be truly secure. The long-term success of the agreement requires not only the signatures of the two governments but the intertwining and good will of the two nations those governments represent. I will also support a new AUMF that explicitly prohibits military action targeting Iran without explicit Congressional authorization.”

Stover: “As an Obama Alum, I am proud of the Administration’s work on JCPOA. The agreement significantly limits the ability of Iran to enrich uranium and plutonium to weapons-grade quality, and establishes an unprecedented system of independent verification. It also benefits from the support of five major nations, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China, Russia — support that Iranian moderates need. The alternatives advanced by the agreement’s critics, including total denuclearization, stand at odds with post-revolutionary identity of Iran’s government. Given the agreement’s unequivocal support among US partners, these alternatives are only possible through the use of unilateral military force. Peaceful and stable relations between any two nations depends on mutual trust and respect.  While the fraught history between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran complicates the present debate, the JCPOA lays the foundation for progress”

“I will do my part to build public trust in the institutions that certify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA from attack. As a condition of the agreement, the IAEA has unprecedented authority to inspect Iran’s nuclear facilities, and the organization has significantly expanded its staff, surveillance capacity, and its operating budget to meet the requirements of the JCPOA. I will also push the President to judge Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA using evidence collected by the IAEA and the US intelligence community, not speculation.”

Wexton: “I strongly support the JCPOA. This treaty has been successful at blocking Tehran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon and is a triumph for peaceful diplomacy as a means to settle international conflict and avoid war. The JCPOA is important first and foremost because it prevents war. The United States and our allies could not accept a nuclear armed Iran. This deal prevents that while also preventing what would be a costly, terrible, and devastating war. Furthermore the deal lifts economic sanctions for the good of the Iranian people and the the good of American influence. By lifting a total trade embargo the United States is able to better influence the people of Iran through trade and culture and serve as a moderating force. Finally, the deal is a victory for the moderate political forces within Iran and further empowers them. I strongly support the JCPOA and will protect it in Congress. As a Member of Congress I will support legislation that protects the JCPOA and oppose legislation that seeks to undermine it. Furthermore I will use my platform as a Congresswoman to advocate in favor of the JCPOA.”

Sanctions and Diplomacy

Comstock has supported broad sanctions against Iran and advocates for increasing broad sanctions against Iranians. “I will continue to support sanctions against Iran until the country takes real steps to implement change, and I trust we will work with our allies to stop the existential threat of an Iran with nuclear weapons.”

Friedman: “The Obama administration had demonstrated that even in the face of a regime that undermines US values and policy around the world, there is real value in diplomatic engagement on mutual interest such as the Iran deal. We should not be calling for additional sanctions on Iran when they are fulfilling their end of the JCPOA, and we should not be beating the drums of war as if they possess nuclear weapons. Further it is through diplomacy — not threats of the possibility of war — that we can we make meaningful progress on issues related to human rights. Sanctions should be used to pressure the Iranian government to stop any potential nuclear weapons program they might develop, but they should not be used to isolate Iran or prevent access to food or medicine for the Iranian people.”

Helmer: “Diplomacy must be our first approach to addressing tensions and conflicts. I am a supporter of the JCPOA and therefore believe that if Iran is party to a material breach of the terms of the agreement, economic sanctions should be re-imposed according to the terms of the deal. At the same time, I strongly oppose the imposition of new sanctions outside the confines of the JPCOA.  Such sanctions would undermine the Iranian public’s support the JCPOA and set back the progress made in recent years in US-Iranian relations.”

Stover: “We should be a leader in supporting peace and resolving tensions between the US and Iran.  I believe promoting a peaceful and stable Middle East depends, in part, on strengthening the position of Iranian moderates relative to their hardliner counterparts. Sanctions must play a role in US policy towards Iran, but only as one part of a wholistic  diplomatic strategy that promotes a peaceful, stable Middle East and protects US citizens and US allies at home and abroad.”

Wexton: “The JCPOA was an excellent example of what can be diplomatically achieved between the United States and Iran. I believe the United States should continue to be a leader in the world, and will support further diplomatic efforts like this in order to continue to improve the relationship between our two countries. I believe that sanctions against Iran should be considered with a very high level of scrutiny. Unfortunately, sanctions tend to harm civil society and common people as much if not more than they influence the regime to change its policies. Furthermore, by refusing to trade with Iran the United States is forfeiting in large part its ability to influence Iran through commerce and culture and pushing the country into the arms of more unfriendly actors like China and Russia. For these reasons I think the negative effects of sanctions must be weighed very heavily and considered very closely.”

Learn more about where to find your polling station, how to vote early, and other information you need to make sure you vote in the Virginia primaries here.

Paid for by NIAC Action, not authorized by any candidate or committee.