Post-9/11 veterans bring their voices to Congress

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Rep. Mike Gallagher was a high school senior when the Twin Towers were hit. For Rep. Elissa Slotkin, it was her second day as a grad student at Columbia University. Rep. Jason Crow was a National Guardsman but would soon switch to active duty.

The big picture: Twenty years after the 9/11 attacks prompted a generation of Americans to serve their country — on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq or as civilian advisers or intelligence officials — dozens now hold seats in Congress, and more are signing up to run in next year's midterms.

Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free

Why it matters: The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has put many of these leaders in the spotlight in recent weeks. They're reminding Americans of their unique role — just as veterans of World War II and Vietnam shaped the discourse around U.S. foreign policy, national security, defense spending and human rights in the decades following their service.

By the numbers: There are 91 U.S. veterans now serving in Congress. Of these, at least 36 served in Afghanistan and Iraq — 27 are Republicans and 9 are Democrats, according to a review of members' congressional biographies.

  • Some already were serving in the military before 9/11 and went on to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq, while others signed up in the weeks, months and years after 9/11.

  • Other lawmakers also were called to serve in different ways, including Slotkin (D-Mich.), who served in the CIA, and Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.), who served as a civilian adviser to two generals in Afghanistan.

At least 11 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans not currently in Congress are running for the U.S. Senate in 2022 — along with at least 33 seeking House seats — and those tallies may continue to grow.

  • The majority are Republicans, with some facing off in primaries, such as J.D. Vance and Josh Mandel in Ohio. Sam Brown, a Republican Senate candidate in Nevada, was seriously wounded by an IED blast in Afghanistan in 2008. Years of rehabilitation followed.

Between the lines: The members of Congress who served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan said that those experiences have shaped the way they legislate and given them empathy for those on the front lines who are directly affected by their decisions.

What they're saying: “When I'm sitting there in those committee hearings, or we're having these debates, they're not theoretical to me. I just think back to my time as Private Crow, how those decisions flow all the way down to those privates. There's a very real impact on their lives,” said Crow, a Colorado Democrat.

  • Crow has used his position to push to repeal the authorizations to use military force. “As of 9/11, we’ve become a country of perpetual conflict,” he said.

  • Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.): “Veterans and those who have spent time in conflict zones understand that what the government does and what the government doesn't do, that lives hang in the balance. It's critical to make sure that that's reflected.”

  • Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican, recalls how his call to service came a year and a half after 9/11, with the invasion of Iraq. He says his focus has now turned to a different national security threat as a result of his experience in counterterrorism in the Middle East.

  • "We avoided a massive terrorist attack domestically,” he said about the Jan. 6 attacks. “But we tend to ignore a different threat, which is that posed by China."

  • Slotkin spoke about how the 9/11 attacks had a unifying effect on her view of Congress: "If we're not trying to get to a better place, if we're not trying to find common ground with other people, what is the point of being a member of Congress?"

  • "I think that those of us in the 9/11 generation, we're going to fight for that country that we believe in. We're not at our best right now, but it's certainly not the end of the story.”

Like this article? Get more from Axios and subscribe to Axios Markets for free.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting