He may have done four tours of duty in Iraq between 2003 and 2008, but Rep. Seth Moulton isn’t afraid to call out military leaders for mismanaging defense strategy and budgets or kowtowing to the president, even if it means challenging decorated eminences inside the Beltway.
“It’s sad for a fellow Marine to see Gen. Kelly bring his own integrity into question,” the Massachusetts Democrat says of President Donald Trump’s chief of staff.
Like many others, Moulton was appalled when Gen. John Kelly defended the president’s comment, on an October phone call, to the widow of U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson: Trump said the soldier, who was killed in combat in Niger, “knew what he was getting into.”
In 2017, Moulton emerged as a cool-headed foil to a capricious commander in chief — one possessing the military bona fides that Trump lacks. He recently opposed the troop increases in Afghanistan and favors restraint on North Korea and Iran. Trump is “approaching these significant challenges dangerously and erratically,” Moulton says. “It’s why Democrats need to step up and provide more leadership on national defense.”
He also has proved willing to take unpopular stands. In October, after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Mouton refused to partake in a moment of silence on the House floor, just as he did following the Orlando shooting in 2016. “Thinking of everyone in #LasVegas, and praying Congress will have the courage to do more than stand in silence to commemorate them,” Moulton tweeted.
The 39-year-old congressman, whose arrival onto the political scene began with a surprise upset in 2014 when he unseated an 18-year incumbent, says he didn’t consider a political career until he was recruited by a nonprofit called New Politics, which aims to get more veterans into elected office. But even it wasn’t the first to push him to public service; during one of his tours, a fellow Marine in Moulton’s platoon told him he should run for office so “this shit doesn’t happen again.”
By many standards, the second-term congressman is still something of a political novice, and unattributed complaints from Washington insiders about Moulton’s ruthless ambition have surfaced in the national press in recent months. “I don’t think I’ve seen a more opportunistic, duplicitous person serving in the House,” one Democratic aide said in July. The blowback is a sure sign, his supporters would argue, that he’s being taken seriously, maybe even as a potential 2020 presidential candidate (a rumor he’s so far denied).
Supporters championing his “country over party” stance see him as a voice of reason and authority, standing out among his colleagues and two currently divided parties. Even some of the people he criticizes — the architects of the wars he helped fight — endorse him, in spite of his calls to fill a strategy vacuum with long-term plans for reconstruction rather than open-ended conflict. Moulton says the “secret” to winning them over without pandering is simply “speaking the truth.”
“Seth Moulton truly exemplifies the contributions that veterans of America’s post-9/11 wars have been making as they transition from the military to civilian lives,” David Petraeus, former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, wrote in an email. “His commitment to reach across the aisle and to resolve important legislative issues has been both courageous and heartening.”
In 2017, Moulton answered his own call to action.
When asked what advice he would offer Trump’s generals if the president’s behavior were to drift from embarrassing to dangerous or illegal, Moulton cites his own “oath to protect and defend the Constitution and obey all lawful orders that are given.” He would, he adds, remind Trump’s inner circle “of the oath they swore.”
Jenna McLaughlin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy.
According to Politico, Moulton proposed to his wife on the balcony of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office.