As the capital region starts reopening, we hear from the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Jeff McKay, and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. Plus, DCist senior editor Rachel Kurzius gives a preview of D.C.'s June 2 primary.
Senator Tim Kaine has been flying under the radar these days. Even with impeachment and the Democratic presidential primaries looming, the former Democratic vice presidential pick says he’s not interested in being a “celebrity senator”, preferring instead to focus his energy on work that will benefit Virginia.
And he’s got plenty on his plate. He’s sponsoring legislation that seeks to curb youth addiction to e-cigarettes. He’s advocating for renewing funding for historically black colleges and other minority-serving institutions. And, alongside the other Virginia senator, Mark Warner, he introduced a bipartisan resolution to eliminate the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment.
Kojo and Tom Sherwood sit down with Senator Kaine to talk about his priorities in the Senate moving forward — and to hear the former governor and Richmond mayor reflect on Virginia Democrats’ successes in elections earlier this month.
Produced by Margaret Barthel
- Tim Kaine Member, U.S. Senate (D-Va.); Former Governor of Virginia; Former Chairman, Democratic National Committee
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show, on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. From impeachment hearing rooms to the Democratic debate stage, there's been a lot of talking, tweeting and posturing in national politics these days. But Virginia Senator Tim Kaine is mostly staying out of it. The former Democratic vice presidential pick says he's not interested in becoming, quote-unquote, “a celebrity senator.” Instead, he's focusing on a number of policy priorities that he thinks will benefit Virginia and the country, including curbing youth e-cigarette use, renewing funding for historically black colleges and universities, and paving the way for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
KOJO NNAMDIAnd, like many long time Virginia Democrats, he's taking a victory lap after the party flipped control of the legislature in the elections earlier this month. He joins me to talk about all of that and answer your questions. Tim Kaine is the U.S. Senator, representing Virginia. Before being elected to the Senate, he was the Governor of Virginia, the mayor of Richmond, and chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Senator Kaine, thank you for joining us.
TIM KAINEKojo, it's so good to be back with you. Thanks.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Tom Sherwood. He is our Resident Analyst and a Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon, everyone.
NNAMDISenator Kaine, what have your impressions been of the impeachment inquiry, which your Democratic colleagues in the House are currently leading?
KAINEWell, Kojo, first, it was necessary. It was absolutely necessary. And here's one of the reasons why. President Trump got about as clear a warning as anybody could ever get in the Mueller Report. You know, the Mueller Report did this investigation and basically said, "Okay, on obstruction of justice, there's a lot of evidence, but a president can't be indicted while he's a sitting president." But then on the question of cooperation with a foreign government to undermine the American elections, while the Mueller Report found that Russia wanted to undermine them, and acted to, and that the Trump administration publically encouraged them to, and that there was some contact with the Russians, the Mueller Report found that there was not sufficient evidence of cooperation for the president to get in trouble for that. But the red line was drawn very clearly. You cannot get a foreign government involved in an effort to undermine an American election. Literally, the day after the report is out, the president and his team are doing exactly what they got this warning that they shouldn't do.
KAINESo, when you have a president who is trying to engage a foreign nation in an effort to help him win an election, he had been told not to do it. He decided to blow through the red light. The question of how serious it is is for us to decide, but it had to happen. But I will say this, it combines four critical elements. The president abusing his power of office to try to subvert an election by thwarting the will of Congress. Congress had mandated this aid to Ukraine to hurt an ally -- Ukraine is an ally -- and, ultimately, to help an adversary, Russia, this is a very serious matter.
SHERWOODWell, if the House moves forward and there is a vote for impeachment matters, it then goes to the Senate. What is your expected -- there's some discussion that maybe the Senate will take this up quickly. Mitch McConnell said, "We'll take it up quickly and dispose of it with a vote," because the Republicans won't vote to impeach. Or they may drag it out to keep the issue alive, because they think they benefit somewhat from it. It gives President Trump something to run against. You have to be one of the jurors in the Senate. So, how do you see this playing out? How would you like to see it play out?
KAINEAnd, Tom, you're right. I am a juror. So, I've already taken oath of office to be a Senator. But if there is an impeachment trial in the Senate, I have to take an oath as a juror to fully and fairly and weigh all the evidence. And that's what I would do. We're hearing different things. I've heard some of the Republicans talk about a six-to-eight week trial.
KAINEBut then I've also heard of a two-week trial. So, I think they're trying to decide. We do know the rules from the Clinton era impeachment. Those rules are things that we're all looking at. The Senators McConnell and Schumer could agree on different rules, but that's a pretty good template. Presentation of evidence by both sides, senators having the opportunity to question witnesses through Council, opportunities for senators to speak and then a vote. If it comes to us, that will be the process. And I expect it will take, you know, the beginning of the next calendar year. We'll be, you know, focused on this every day.
NNAMDIYou've said that you plan to follow the facts and reserve judgement until that trial in the Senate -- assuming that the House votes to impeach, that is. But one issue that came out of last week's public hearings is that Democrats and Republicans seem to have pretty different ideas of what the facts actually are and how to interpret them. In her testimony on Thursday, former senior National Security Council staffer Fiona Hill suggested that some Republicans have bought into a, quoting here, "fictional narrative about possibly Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election," a narrative she says is really Russian disinformation. Are you concerned at all that the polarization between the two parties seems to extend all the way to the facts themselves?
KAINEKojo, I am worried about that. And I think Fiona Hill's testimony was accurate, and I think most of the members of the Senate understand that she was accurate and that this Ukrainian conspiracy theory is fake. I'm sad to see some of my colleagues giving it life. I think some of my colleagues giving it life know that it's false. But they're doing it to try to avoid coming face to face with the gravity of the president's misbehavior. The two issues that the Senate will obviously have to grapple with -- if the matter comes to us -- is, A, what occurred and then, B, how serious is it. You can believe the president did something wrong and not believe it's impeachable. But I have a hard time believing that any reasonable person can look at this set of facts and say the president didn't do anything wrong.
SHERWOODIs it possible that the Democrats may come to the conclusion that not to make it an impeachment matter, and then have this episode play out in the Senate? But rather instead layout all the things that they believe the president has done wrong and invoke maybe to censor the president, as opposed to impeach the president.
KAINEIt would be a little premature to say that. I mean, obviously, if the House votes on articles of impeachment, we will have a trial on those articles. The Senate doesn't get to rewrite the articles. They don't get to amend them. They just have to have the trial, and then vote them up or down. There is possibility for could there be motions. Could the Republicans offer a motion to dismiss rather than an up or down vote on the articles of impeachment? could somebody offer a motion to censure, who feels that the behavior is bad, but maybe not to the level of a warranting a conviction, a removal from office? There are a number of different possibilities, but I think the right way to do this is to put the steps in the right order. You have to follow the evidence first. And we can't assume that all the evidence is on the table. I mean, I have been surprised by some of the revelations in the inquiry. And I'm a Senator that gets a lot of classified information. So, if I'm being surprised, I'm imaging that the American public is surprised. And there could be more surprises.
SHERWOODThere's some suggestion there will be some more information. While we're playing this out, we have a presidential campaign going on. You were, of course, the vice presidential nominee. Do you have a candidate for president?
KAINEI have not endorsed. No.
SHERWOODHow are you looking at it?
KAINEYeah. I endorse early, when I say my gut says that's the right person. And the right person for me means will be a good president, can win the election and can win Virginia. I have worked very hard to try to help flip Virginia from all red to significantly blue. I want somebody who will take Virginia seriously and can win Virginia. In 2008 and 2016, I endorsed very, very early. But my gut isn't in that place right now. I don't have it in my gut that this is the right person. And so I'm watching the debates carefully. I'm watching the performance of the candidates in the early states. We're still a ways away. Early February is when the caucus in Iowa takes place. But I'm a ways away from having a resolves about who the right person is.
NNAMDIOur guest is U.S. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. If you have questions or comments for him, give us a call, 800-433-8850.
SHERWOODThere is a long list at this point of Democratic candidates. And, of course, it's getting longer. Do you have a short list in your mind, even of a few people you're considering? Is there anyone you've ruled out? And you probably don't want to answer either of those questions.
KAINEYeah, no, I don't.
KAINEYeah, no. Until I say, "Here's who I'm supporting," I'm, you know, not going to go overboard about saying good things or bad thing of anything. I will say this I am somebody who has been invested in this Virginia project of taking a state that in 2000 -- when I started to run for Lieutenant Governor, virtually all of the levers were red. And now, we got the last piece in the jigsaw puzzle with the two Houses a couple of Tuesdays back, and the levers are blue. And we've done it in a very particular way. We've done it by being practical progressives, rather and impractical progressives. We've done it by reaching out to the acceleratingly diverse Virginia electorate. And not just reaching out to voters, but also having candidates who represent this growing diversity Virginia. And when we do that as Democrats, and the other side is on an anti-immigration kick, for example, we've done a really good job of getting new Americans to vote for Democratic candidates and to run as Democrats.
KAINESo, I would love to see somebody who, you know, is putting themselves in the practical progressive space, and who has really solid outreach to this growingly diverse nation.
NNAMDIGlad you brought up the practical progressive space, because there have been several late breaking additions to the race in the last few weeks. Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City and Deval Patrick, former Governor of Massachusetts, they have both entered the race. And some are reading their late entries as a sign that the moderate wing of party is concerned about the rise of progressives like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the polls. You were widely recognized yourself as a moderate Democrat. Are you worried about the party nominating someone too far left?
SHERWOODPresident Obama has suggested that's a potential issue.
KAINEThere are some positions that are being taken out there that I worry are going -- that are either a little bit impractical politically, impractical from a policy standpoint, or they're just going too far in the matchup against President Trump. You know what President Trump's campaign is going to be, and so in some of the issues, I do worry that we could go too extreme. And, you know, all give you an example.
SHERWOODMedicare for all?
KAINEI'll give you an example. I don't view Medicare for all as an extreme idea, in the sense of nations have single-parent at work. So, it's not an extreme idea in that sense. But when millions and millions of Americans have health insurance that they like, to tell them, "We're going to take that from you. We're going to abolish private insurance, but we'll give you something. And don't worry, you'll like it." They just don't believe it. So many don't believe it. So I wrote a bill with Michael Bennet of Colorado. We call it Medicare X. We introduced it a few years ago, and the idea was keep the system we have, the Obamacare system, add one element to it. Let CMS develop a --
KAINECenters for Medicaid and Medicare Services, a public insurance product that, by definition, wouldn't have to collect a profit, wouldn't have to advertise on the evening news, wouldn't have to pay state and local taxes or fancy executive salaries, and let that public insurance policy be offered to everybody on the exchanges. And let people buy that if they want. It would be price competitive. People would know if they moved across the country, well, Medicare still exists in Oregon. I don't know whether Anthem writes policies in Oregon, but Medicare does. It would provide dramatic increases in coverage at dramatically lower cost. I think that's the practically progressive way to take what we've done and expand it and help an awful lot of people. I don't think you have to go to, "We're going to abolish your private insurance," to do something good for people. And I worry that that gives President Trump an opening that we shouldn't give him because remember the Democrats are pretty close together. We all want to expand access and lower cost. President Trump is trying to take health insurance away from millions and millions of people.
NNAMDIHere's Roy in Alexandria, Virginia. Roy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROYHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call.
ROYI definitely appreciate the opportunity. Hi, Senator. I appreciate the opportunity to ask you a question. I want to ask you about Mitch McConnell. He has been tweeting that House Democrats are so busy with impeachment that they have not been legislating for the American people. And then you read other things about him seemingly taking pride in being referred to as the Grim Reaper. And the fact that there are -- hopefully it's a fact. It's hard to know what is and what isn't anymore. But the information that there are hundreds of bills sitting on the majority leader's desk and (unintelligible). So, I'm hoping you could tell us what is the view from within the Senate on this matter?
KAINERoy, absolutely. I'm so glad you asked that question. Well, Mitch is wrong. The House, though they are conducting an impeachment inquiry, has put dozens and dozens, indeed, hundreds of bills on his desk. And he will not allow them to come up for a vote. Democrats, we go to the floor. and we seek what's called unanimous consent. When he won't put a bill out there, we seek unanimous consent to turn to House Bills dealing with election security, gun safety, immigration reform. And Republicans stand up and object. Now, when we say we want to turn to considering a bill, it doesn't mean you have to pass it as it. It's just that we would like to begin a discussion about gun violence. We'd like to begin a discussion about immigration reform, protecting our elections. And Senator McConnell blocks it over and over and over. Obviously, with the majority, we wouldn't be able to pass anything if the Republicans didn't support some version of it.
KAINESo, they could allow consideration of bills and still essentially control what gets passed or not. But, no. Leader McConnell is blocking even the consideration of these bills. So, Democrats in the House with their majority are working very hard. And Democrats in the Senate are attempting to force discussion of the issues that Americans want us to discuss. Senator McConnell is blocking them from being considered.
SHERWOODYou're the Former Democratic National Committee Chairman. You're a member of the Senate. How hopeful is the Democratic Party that will take control of the Senate in the 2020 elections? Mark Warner, your colleague from Virginia, is up. I think there are like six Republicans already planning to run to try to run against him. But how optimistic are you?
KAINETom, that is sort of my focus. My main focus in 2020 will be helping Mark Warner get reelected, and our members of Congress either get reelected or new members win. I want to make sure we keep winning Virginia's electoral votes. But to the extent I have any political time beyond that, I'm trying to help my colleagues win Senate races across the country. We will have a good dynamic in 2020 and an okay map. Not a great map. We had a good dynamic and a bad map in 2018. But what we need to do is we need to project our incumbents. Mark is working very, very hard. He's not taking anything for granted. We have other incumbents. Doug Jones in Alabama. Gary Peters in Michigan, probably a special. We have to pay attention to those races. And then we have races that are potential pickups for us: Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina.
KAINEKentucky, possibly. Montana, if Steve Bullock decides he doesn't want to run for president. But, like John Hickenlooper, he sees, you know what? You can go to the Senate. You can be on the Armed Services, Foreign Relations or Intel committees and focus on the role of America in the world, which is something that, as a governor, you don't a chance to do. If he were to do that, we'd have a chance in Montana. We have a great candidate in Kansas, of all places. Normally, that wouldn't be, you know, maybe a top-tier race. But we just flipped the governor's office in Kansas and flipped a House Republican, a red Republican seat in Kansas last year. And so, we're focusing on that Senate race. Maine, there's many Senate races where we're going to play to try to get the majority.
SHERWOODGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. You can join that conversation by calling 800-433-8850. What are your thoughts about the Democratic primaries so far? Are you concerned about the progressive leanings of the few? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is U.S. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. Closer to home, Virginia held elections earlier this month. All the seats in the General Assembly are up for grabs. The Democratic Party took control of both chambers, something that's eluded them for a long time, though the governor's mansion has been blue for years. On this program and elsewhere, we've heard moderate Republicans of Virginia who voted Democrat this year, not because they especially supported the policy vision, but because they don't like the direction of the Republican Party under President Trump. Do you think the Democratic Party in Virginia will be able to hold onto those gains in the future without the specter of this president helping them out?
KAINEThat's a really good question, Kojo. I think Democrats will be able to hold on to the support if they govern well. And we've viewed this since Mark Warner won the governorship in 2001, breaking a bad string where Democrats couldn't win anything. We've always viewed -- Governor Warner, I did, Terry McAuliffe, Ralph, we've always viewed -- we have to put real accomplishments on the board for people, so that they will see, "Wow, you know, Democrats know how to run our state and run it well." And so I think that's the challenge for the two House majorities, and they're up to the challenge. They're laying out some of their priorities already: meaningful background checks to reduce gun violence, ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. The kinds of priorities they're laying out are priorities that I think will make the voters feel happy that they elected Democratic majorities.
SHERWOODThe Senate just today put out -- Senate Democrats put out the list, pass the Equal Rights Amendment, universal background -- this is to do in the first 10 days in the legislature. Universal background checks, no excuse absentee voting, housing non-discrimination, abolishing driver's license suspensions for non-payment of fines, repealing mandatory ultrasound prior to abortion.
KAINEThese are -- I think each of those priorities, overwhelmingly, Democrats and independents and many Republicans would say they support them. And I think, you know, there will be hundreds of bills that will be introduced. Usually, as governor, at the end of the session I'd have eight or 900, even 1,000 on my desk. But if these are the lead priorities, what you see in that list is the Senate Democrats saying, "We understand that Virginians want progressive change." But they want things that are sort of, again, in this practical progressive space that I was talking about earlier.
SHERWOODDick Saslaw of Northern Virginia, Alexandria, he's the Senate Majority Leader. He's been there. He knows how fast to push things?
KAINEI think so. Look, they've got a couple of challenges.
SHERWOODAnd Eileen Filler-Corn is the --
KAINEEileen is a pro. Eileen is pro.
SHERWOODWill be the House Speaker.
KAINEIt will be exciting to have the first woman speaker, and she'll be the highest Jewish person ever to hold office in Virginia. The day she's sworn in going to be a powerful day. The House clerk will be a woman for the first time in the history of the House of Delegates, a 400-year history. So, there's going to be a lot of excitement about that. But the challenges that they have to manage aren't just, you know, moderate or progressive, you know, left, right, center. They have to manage, if we try to do 100 things, we might dilute or effective effort to get 10 done. So, you do the 10 most important, and when those are done, you do the 10 next important. Then they also will have to grapple with Republicans going into minority status, but wanting to sort of trip them up with parliamentary maneuvers. I saw that when I was governor. We flipped one House, the Senate, from red to blue in 2007. And for the first number of months the Republicans who had had to master all the parliamentary procedures in majority used those to sort of thwart the Democrats' efforts. And they have to beware about that.
SHERWOODSome of the Republicans are saying that the new leadership of the Democrats in the House and the Senate in the General Assembly is too focused on Northern Virginia.
KAINEI think if you look at that priority list, I don't think that's the case. And the other thing I'll point out -- and Tom, you and Kojo probably followed this. Here's something interesting that happened last year. Legislators from rural Virginia for years have been saying, "Give us money for transportation solutions, Interstate 81." And they've been asking. But when they've had a chance, they've voted down funding for transportation. They vote against it. Last year, they gave the governor a bill that was, "We need to do a study about what to do about I-81." Well, the studies are a mile high. And he changed the study bill. We need to do more than study. We need to act. And we're going to raise some revenue to fix I-81, and he put that on the bill. The Republicans from Western Virginia voted against it. But Democrats from Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads voted for it. And it was Democrats from the metro areas that provided the funding mechanisms to help Western Virginia get transportation fixes. Whenever anybody tells me Democrats don't pay attention to rural voters, I say, if you look at our voter record, actually, I think we're more responsive to rural voters' needs, in many instances, than their own elected Republican legislators are.
KAINEThe list that you've laid out from Senator Saslaw and the Senate Democrats, that's not a Northern Virginia wish list. Those are priorities that, all across Virginia, I think people would see as commonsensical.
NNAMDIHere is Yolanda, in Manassas. Yolanda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
YOLANDAHi, thank you for taking my call. My question for Senator Kaine is that, recently, the Richmond Times has published a three-part series where hospitals in Virginia are using guardianships as a way to kick out Medicare and Medicaid patients. And, essentially, what this is this guardianship -- it's abuse of the elderly and disabled. And I wanted to know what his view was and how he would plan on addressing this.
KAINEI am so glad that Yolanda called in to ask that question, because I have not read that series. And if I talk to somebody and I don't walk away a little smarter, then I'm not listening. Yolanda, you're going to make me want to go look at that series, because, in the Senate, I serve on the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, which, together with the Finance Committee, we do a lot of work on Medicaid and Medicare issues. We've been very aware of challenges, for example, physicians saying they won't take on any new Medicaid patients, which restricted access to folks in the Medicaid program. But I'll go back and look at this issue of the guardianships and hospitals to see if they're thwarting the intent of the program and what we might be able to do about it.
SHERWOODCan we go back to guns for just a moment?
SHERWOODThat was an issue in the state legislature. Several counties in Virginia, several places in the country are now passing Second Amendment Sanctuary rules, saying that they are going to be a sanctuary for the Second Amendment.
KAINEThe entire national is sanctuary for the Second Amendment, because the Constitution applies in every zip code in this country. So, just like the other amendments, we're obligated to follow that Constitutional provision in every zip code in this country.
SHERWOODBut Louisa County, Amelia County I think is voting -- several counties have voting, others are voting. But it goes to the issue of the emotion created by the Second Amendment. Are you confident that the Democrats can toughen the laws around guns, the illegal use of guns, but also reassure people that you're not violating the Second Amendment?
KAINEWe will be able to reassure, Tom, the overwhelming majority of people. We'll reassure them by taking steps that will keep them safer. You know, I had the sad misfortune of being governor when the shooting occurred at Virginia Tech. Horrible tragedy, 32 people killed. And it was needless. The young man who killed them had been adjudicated mentally ill and dangerous. But because of weaknesses in the background check system, he got a weapon that he was prohibited from having. That taught us a painful lesson, which is if you have a weak background check system, there will be slaughters that could be avoided. And so we need to comprehensive background checks in Virginia. And that doesn't violate anybody's Second Amendment Rights, because those laws exist in many states and they've been upheld in legal challenges. And, furthermore, Virginians and gun owners and even NRA members strongly support background record checks.
KAINEThe NRA used to, as a matter of policy, support background record checks, until the gun manufacturers sort of took over their lobbying efforts. So, I would say we're going to be able to do things at the state level. And I believe, one day, at the Congressional level that will deal with the scourge of gun violence in communities that have been so scarred by it, which are Virginia communities but all over this country completely consistent with the Constitution.
NNAMDIWell, after the Virginia Beach shooting, Governor Ralph Northam called a General Assembly into special session to consider gun safety reforms but the Republican-led majority adjourned the session after 90 minutes without considering a single bill. Instead, they referred the question of what to do about gun violence to the state crime commission, something they said you did after the Virginia Tech shooting. How do you respond to that?
KAINEKojo, they're not correct. First, the adjournment of that special session in the aftermath of the shooting at Virginia Tech -- and, remember, Governor Northam called it not only because of Virginia Beach, but because there was a 11-year-old girl in Richmond is was at a neighborhood party and was killed by gun violence right around the same time. And he said, we've suffered enough, and he put a package on the table.
KAINEWhen the Republicans came into that session, they could've said, we don't agree with any of your bills, but this is a problem, so here's our solutions. Instead, they adjourned the session. They basically looked suffering people and suffering communities in the face and said, here's what we have for you: nothing.
KAINEWhen they sent it to the Crime Commission and said, oh, well, Governor Kaine had a commission after Virginia Tech, they left out the important part of the story. I did have a commission. The commission made recommendations. I got the recommendations passed, except the one dealing with background checks. The Republicans wouldn't do it, even in the aftermath of the worst shooting in the history of the United States, even though the commission recommended it. So, their suggestion, oh, send it to a commission and then we'll take it seriously, they've demonstrated by their actions that they will do nothing.
KAINEYou know, if you were to look at the reasons for the November wins by Democrats, it was largely a revulsion at a legislature that would do nothing to respond to major concerns like gun violence, as well as deep concerns about President Trump.
NNAMDICecilia emails: listening to Senator Kaine, I started thinking, why can't we just go ahead and nominate him as our candidate for 2020? He's so reasonable and experienced. Are you ever considering another White House run?
KAINEWell, that was very kind of Cecilia to do that. I had this strong feeling, Kojo, as soon as I walked back into the office -- you know, I introduced Hillary Clinton for her concession speech on a Wednesday morning, and I was back in the Senate the following Tuesday, which was the first day of session. And when I stepped across the threshold into my office, I just had the feeling the Senate might be needed to save this country, and Virginians have given me the honor of being in the Senate. And I don't want to start thinking about the next thing I might do. Let me try to be a better senator.
KAINEAnd so I never seriously entertained running this year, and I'm just trying to be a better senator every day. And I am learning -- the Senate's a quirky place, as you guys know. There are some aspects of it that take a while to master, and, not that I've mastered them, but I'm getting better and better at it.
NNAMDIHere's Dave, in Arlington. Dave, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVEHey, I also think you're doing a great job, Senator.
KAINEThank you, Dave.
DAVEThe only disagreement I have with you is this idea that we need a moderate. Because, you know, we had Al Gore, we had John Cary and we had Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton may have been the most qualified person ever to run for president, but she did not inspire the base. And that's how you win. And Donald Trump is (unintelligible). He knows if he gets his base inspired and gets them out, he has a shot.
KAINEI get it. And, look, you haven't heard me say on this program we should nominate a moderate. Those words have not come out of my mouth. I've said we should nominate a practical progressive. Here's the way I look at politics. Some people look at it on a left-center-right spectrum. I don't look at it that way. I look at it in the Venn diagram that Sister Perpetua taught me in 2nd grade math class. So, you all know what a Venn diagram is. Put it up on a board.
KAINEHere's who Democrats are. Here's who independents are. Here's who Republicans are. You want to have a candidate, I believe -- and I've tried to run my own campaigns this way -- that pick issues to be at the front and center, that both Democrats and Independents feel absolutely passionate about. I don't want mushy middle anything. Lead with issues that Democrats and independents feel passionate about. And there are many issues.
KAINEWe've got to do something about climate change, LGBT equality, the need to address gun violence. These are not mushy and in the middle. They're things that Dems are passionate about and independent are, too. So, I do believe that the way to win a presidential race or a senator/governor's race is to energize Democrats and also energize independents. You'll get a few Republican votes if they're not happy with Donald Trump, but you don't worry about sort of chasing after Republican votes.
KAINEYou energize Dems and energize Independents. And you don't need a moderate to do it, but I do think you're helped if you have a progressive who's got a practical sense of I can't not only tell you I want to do this, but I can show you that we can get it done.
SHERWOODWhat about campaign finance? I went back and looked, in your reelection campaign last year, you spent $25 million, Corey Stewart spent 3 million. You won, I think it was, 67 percent of the vote or something ...
KAINENo, it wasn't that much.
SHERWOODIt was a lot, though.
KAINEI like it. I like that, though.
SHERWOODWell, you would've liked to have won...
SHERWOODBut it was a lot, but that's a lot of money. But the Supreme Court has made it hard to take money out of presidential campaigns. But is there any campaign finance reform that can be done both in Senate races and House races and maybe even presidential, other than there's people saying they're not going to take money from this person or that person?
KAINENo. Really interesting question. The Supreme Court has made it very hard, but here's one that they have said repeatedly they'll uphold: complete transparency. I think any campaign contribution to a candidate or to a state party or to some group that's going to run adds about campaigns or candidates, I think they should be completely transparent in terms of who's giving.
KAINEWhat we now have is a system where the candidates have to disclose their donors and state parties have to disclose their donors, but there's all kinds of PACs and super PACs that don't have to disclose. And more and more of the money spent in politics is now dark money, where you don't disclose the donor. There have been studies that suggest that ads supported by dark money are much less likely to be true than the ones where you got to put your reputation behind them.
KAINESo, the Supreme Court has said complete transparency, kind of a no-secret-money approach. They would uphold that, and I think that's something that Congress should do. And it should happen at the state level, as well.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. And you should know that when we take these breaks, Tom Sherwood hates breaks, so in order to keep him happy, we generally play a little music going into the break. And I know that you're one of the only senators that plays the harmonica. And it is my understanding that you brought it with you -- oh, he did bring it with him today. So, how about a tune to play us into the break?
KAINEAnd I'm going to play a tune, because I know Kojo's a jazz fan, and I think he'll recognize this tune.
NNAMDIIf I could carry a tune, I would sing along, because I certainly do love that song. We're going to take this short break, and then we'll be right back with Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who just demonstrated that, yes, he can play the harmonica pretty well. Another issue Virginia Democrats will be confronting as the majority party in the General Assembly is redrawing political districts in the state in 2021. A state constitutional amendment to create an independent commission to oversee the redistricting process has passed the General Assembly once, but it needs to be approved a second time for it to go to voters for approval. Virginia Democrats could choose to continue down that road, or they could keep control of the redistricting process. What do you think they should do?
KAINEKojo, I think they should keep going down the road to do the nonpartisan redistricting. This was something that Ralph Northam, as a candidate, said he would do as governor. And as you pointed out, the General Assembly passed version one. For a constitutional change of this type, they have to pass it twice and then put it on the ballot in a popular referendum.
KAINEWhat they did when they passed it the first time last year, though, is they said, look, when it gets to next year and we have to pass it the second time, we have to flush out the details of the plan. What would the nonpartisan redistricting commission look like? Who would be on the commission, etcetera? And they'll probably only pass it the second time if they can reach an accord on the details.
KAINEAnd the details are important. You want to protect communities. You want to protect minority communities. The Voting Rights Act says you can't dilute minority voting strength. And so this would have to be done in a way where people would feel confident that voting rights principles would be upheld. But I believe they can do that. And I hope that Democrats will demonstrate, with their leadership, that they're going to continue down this path.
NNAMDIBut Democrats obviously want to win, and so to resist the temptation of gerrymandering districts in such a way that you can guarantee a win is one issue. The other issue is, what if other states don’t do it?
SHERWOODAnd also, the Supreme Court said you may gerrymander for political reasons, as long as they're not racially discriminatory.
KAINEWell, but the Supreme Court sure didn't say it was the right thing to do or a good thing to do. They said that they couldn't find a constitutional reason to strike it down. You're right, Kojo, Democrats want to win, but remember, they just won on maps that Republicans drew. Now, those maps had been slightly altered by a couple of court cases, but the maps that Democrats just won on were not maps that they drew. They were maps that Republican's drew that were slightly revised.
KAINEYou can come up with a neutral redistricting process that will give Democrats what they basically, I think, would be entitled to by who Virginia is. Look at who's winning statewide elections these days over and over and over again. The Republicans haven't won a statewide election in more than 10 years in Virginia. Democrats should feel confident that a nonpartisan redistricting will end up with a General Assembly that's a pretty good match for who Virginia is these days.
SHERWOODLet me ask two quick questions. What about the federal minimum wage? At $7.25, it has not changed since 2009, I believe. Many states, the District of Columbia, have raised as much as 14, $15. The Virginians and the General Assembly said they will raise the minimum wage, what, we don't know yet. But is there any move at all -- there are just millions upon millions of Americans who make $7.25 an hour. That's like $15,000 a year.
SHERWOODYou cannot live on that. The minimum wage is meaningless for many people.
KAINEAnd there are many people who work fulltime at minimum wage, and two-thirds of those who do are women. If you have a dependent especially, you will be a fulltime worker and below the poverty level in some parts of this country, based on cost of living. We need to...
SHERWOODAny movement in the Senate, in the House or Senate?
KAINEThere are bills that I support and, frankly, the minimum wage bill may be one of the bills that's out of the house already and on Senator McConnell's desk. I'm not 100 percent sure of that, but I wouldn't be surprised. Virtually every Democrat in the house and Senate we support taking the minimum wage to the $15 over time.
KAINEI will tell you what I think we should do with minimum wage. I think the minimum wage should express a policy, rather than just change it. And then it doesn't get changed for another 10 years. The policy I would like is you would set the minimum wage so that somebody who's a fulltime worker at minimum wage would be above the poverty level. I would also adjust that every year or so, rather than wait for 10 years, because it is challenging for companies if it's not adjusted for a decade. Then to make it right with workers, you've got to adjust it by a lot. In that big jump, you should smooth out that jump with annual incremental increases, like we do with the cost of living...
SHERWOODIt's like many states and the District have done that. They've raised the minimum wage, but they've done it over three, four, five, six, seven years, in many cases.
KAINEAnd I think that makes it easier to do, but we should have a minimum wage that gets a working, fulltime worker out of poverty.
SHERWOODI've got one more quick -- FBI, there was a -- for several years, we discussed on this program and others, the FBI has a horrible ratty headquarters downtown on Pennsylvania Avenue. They're either going to move to two places in suburban Maryland or to Springfield, Virginia.
SHERWOODIt was all set for the government to make a decision. President Trump said, eh, they can stay where they are. What is the status of that? Now, I know there's an inspector general looking at the delay. But is it ever going to happen? That's 11,000 workers. That's a lot of law enforcement. And they're way behind in their...
KAINEAnd there's nobody who says that that building is suitable for the FBI. They need a new facility. The worry about President Trump, frankly, on this one was the FBI was going to move to one of these other locations, and then was going to free that block up for commercial development. And that would be a way of bringing down the cost of building a new FBI building, if you could use that block for commercial development.
KAINEThere was a concern that the White House stopped the project because they didn't want competition for the Trump Hotel. And so one of the things that's going on with the house -- I know Gerry Connolly has been very focused on this IG -- I think they're looking at, well, was the motive to stop this project so late in the game to pad the president's own pocket and make his own hotel not have a competitor? So, that's sort of what's an issue.
KAINEBottom line, the FBI needs a new facility. Virginia has one on the table. Maryland has two on the table. But I hope the White House will recommit that the project needs to take place. We feel comfortable we can make the case for our site, but they need a new facility.
NNAMDIOne major priority Virginia Democrats say they want to tackle is ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would make Virginia the 38th state to do so. Thirty-eight is the number necessary for the amendment to be added to the Constitution, but there are complications. Several of the states that have ratified have done so after the 1982 deadline to do so passed. And some states have even rescinded their earlier decisions. You and your fellow Virginian, Senator Mark Warner, have introduced legislation to eliminate the deadline. Where does that stand, and what's the likelihood of it being brought to the floor for a vote and receiving enough votes to pass?
KAINEKojo, you state it very well. I think the likelihood of the General Assembly ratifying the ERA is nearly 100 percent. All right, so that happens. Then what? What does that mean? The ERA organic law that was passed in Congress in the early 1970s set a time deadline that had already been extended once to get to that 38 states. That time deadline is now passed, so there's sort of two arguments that are happening at the same time.
KAINEThe first one is that the setting of that time deadline was ineffective because the Constitution doesn't have that. There are amendments in the Constitution, believe it or not, that to get to the number of states to ratify, took 100 years. But when they finally got there it became part of the Constitution. So, the question is, can Congress limit this ratification procedure by putting an artificial deadline on it? There will be court cases that will try to strike the deadline down.
KAINEBut just in case, Senator Warner and I -- and it is bipartisan, Lisa Murkowski is one of our cosponsors -- have the bill to lift the deadline. That would be a bill that I think, bluntly, I would not see movement on that bill as likely with a Republican-majority Senate. With a Democratic-majority Senate, I think we could do it. But with a Republican-majority Senate, I would see the leadership likely trying to block it.
SHERWOODLet me ask about statehood. There's a court case tomorrow in federal court, we discussed it on Friday's Politics Hour, saying that the Congress has the authority -- the Supreme Court has said that Congress has the authority to grant statehood to the district of Columbia. It just will not do it. And the court case says it's discriminatory against the people of the District not to be having the same voting rights in Congress -- I'm sorry, voting rights in Congress, not statehood, excuse me...
SHERWOOD...voting right in the Senate and the House. Where are you on voting rights for the District of Columbia citizens to have senators and a member of Congress, a full voting member, rather than a delegate as Eleanor Holmes Norton is.
KAINEI am pro D.C. having the representation that a state would have, and I'm pro-statehood.
NNAMDIYou've had some back and forth with the White House over the census. Earlier this year, the administration attempted to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. That effort was blocked by a court this summer after evidence came to light about the partisan and racist motivations of adding the question, which many think would result in an undercount of immigrant communities.
NNAMDIBut the president than took executive action to require agencies to turn over that data. You and some of your Senate colleagues have introduced legislation to overturn it. Where does all of this stand now?
KAINEThis is going to be something -- I mean, we'll have strong support in the House for this. And the House Oversight Committee's going a good job on census questions, but we'll battle this one in the Senate. You know, I think the president's plan to disenfranchise people in the census is something that many Senate Republicans will not oppose him on. And as you point out, Kojo, it will lead to an undercount. And then that undercount affects so much.
KAINEI was a mayor, you know, before I was a governor. The federal funding to Virginia or to my city Richmond or to any city is heavily dependent upon census figures. And so if there's anything that would cause people to fear reporting, and then there's an undercount, then that's going to affect funding. It could affect congressional reapportionment in some states. Virginia might stand to get another congressional seat sometime in the next few decadesc because of their growing population. But if our population is undercounted, that will hurt equitable representation.
SHERWOODThis is the Politics Hour, for a moment. Governor Terry McAuliffe, who you mentioned earlier, is thinking about running for governor again in 2021, which means he'd probably have to start the campaign next year. I don't think you're ever going to run for governor again, (laugh) but tell me this, what do you think about Terry McAuliffe maybe becoming only the second person to serve two terms as governor by running again in 2021?
KAINERight. I'm sure all the listeners know Virginia's still this unique place where you cannot run for reelection...
KAINEOne term. Not successively.
KAINE...but you can run later. So, there's been one governor, the guy who preceded my father-in-law, Mills Godwin was a Democratic governor, and then after, my father-in-law ran and was a Republican governor. Look, if Terry ran, he would be very formidable. He did a really good job as governor. And I think, had he been able to run for reelection, he would've been reelected.
SHERWOODAnd he worked this past year, too, in the state...
KAINEHe definitely did. But there are other candidates out there, though: Jen McClellan, Jennifer Carroll Foy have talked about running. And they also are very, very strong state legislators who've got good track records. You know, one of the interesting things in Virginia is, in the past, when (unintelligible) were so poor, you had trouble getting any Democrat to run. And it was like, let Mikey try. You know, if you can find one, let that person try it.
KAINEAs Democrats win more races, more people get into these primaries because they believe I cannot just win the nomination. I can be elected statewide as a Democrat.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) And as you suggested, if you govern well, too -- I mean, if Governor Northam and the new speaker of the house, Eileen Filler-Corn, and the state senate president, they have to work together...
SHERWOOD...so the Democrats can govern.
KAINEYeah, people will put the keys in your hand, but then they're going to see what kind of a driver you are. And if you're a good driver, then you can build up quite a momentum, which we've been able to do. But it always -- you know, you have to be tethered to that reality, which is, at the end of the day, people have to see good results from your governance.
NNAMDIIn a letter sent earlier this month, you and many of your Democratic colleagues in the Senate urged Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring a bill to the floor to renew funding for HBCUs and minority-serving institutions. What exactly would that legislation do, and how likely is it to get anywhere considering that there wasn't a single Republican signatory?
KAINEKojo, this bill is really an important one. Our HBCUs -- we have many in Virginia, but all over the country -- HBCUs and minority-serving institutions do some absolutely fantastic work. And there has been a funding agreement to fund them. And, basically, we just want to reauthorize that agreement. This really isn't -- you know, here's a new program we hope you'll do. This is continuing a federal commitment to these institutions.
KAINEThe previous commitment expired at the end of September. That starts to affect students as early as the next academic year. It wasn't like the dollars just immediately cut off, but at the beginning of the next academic year, it will affect students. And so we have a bill to make sure that these funds are reauthorized. The institutions can stay strong.
KAINEWe've been trying to get it on the floor for action, because the house has passed a version, and the Senate keeps blocking it. Now, what the Senate will say is we're blocking it because we're working on the broader Higher Education Act. And we're committed to doing this as part of the Higher Education Act. But we shouldn't need to wait for everything in Higher Education Act to be ironed out for this program, which has been going on for a long time, to be continued.
NNAMDIJeremy tweets: can we get the ball rolling on legal access to cannabis in Virginia? We're falling behind the rest of the country, and I'm sure we could put the tax dollars to good use somewhere.
KAINEJeremy, you've got a great question. So, you're right, other states have moved down that path. You know, the joke that I've heard recently is D.C., decriminalize marijuana. You can't get arrested for it. You can just get a ticket. And the bad news is it's a Redskins ticket. (laugh) So, that's the deterrent and punitive effect.
KAINEBut I am a cosponsor of the bill at the federal level to completely decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. That would take it out of the criminal code, expunge records and let people out of prison if they're serving for marijuana-related offenses, partly because these laws have been used in a disproportionate way against minorities, and also because we have higher priorities.
KAINEI do think at the state level, states have to grapple with this in their own way. Some states have moved to decriminalization. Other states have moved toward easier access to marijuana for medical uses. At the federal level, we finally started to allow research, you know, to really be directed at marijuana. So, does THC have pain management properties that would be preferable to using Opioids? We're finally doing that research. So, the General Assembly, I know, will contemplate that. I haven't talked to General Assembly members about what they want to do at the state level. But, at the federal level, I favor decriminalization.
SHERWOODBut, very quickly, can you tell us whether the Redskins, you would support moving that team to Virginia, yes or no?
KAINEI'm kind of hoping that they find a good use for the place where the RFK is. I think that that would be the perfect spot, public transit access, etcetera.
NNAMDITim Kaine is the U.S. Senator representing Virginia. Before being elected to the Senate, he was the governor of Virginia and the mayor of Richmond. Senator Kaine, thank you so much for joining us.
KAINEAll right. Thanks, Kojo. Thanks, Tom.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Margaret Barthel. Coming up tomorrow, a look inside the lives of presidentially pardoned turkeys, and local twists on classic Turkey Day recipes with the host of WAMU's Dish City. It all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, Tom Sherwood, see you Friday.
NNAMDIOh, no, we're off Friday. See you next Friday.
SHERWOODYeah, you know, the host is supposed to know the schedule.
NNAMDIThe host doesn't remember anything except that we'll be back here at noon tomorrow. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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