Tim Kaine: Virginia vote 'a repudiation' of Trump style

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent
Sen. Tim Kaine celebrates the Democratic primary win of Virginia gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, at a Democratic primary election party in Crystal City, Va., June 13, 2017. (Photo: AP/Cliff Owen)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said Wednesday that the Democratic romp in Virginia reflected the power of the party’s focus on “bread-and-butter issues” over a Republican emphasis on immigration and culture-war issues.

“The Dems focused on bread-and-butter issues — jobs, education and health care,” Kaine, the Democrats’ 2016 vice-presidential candidate and a former head of the Democratic National Committee, said in a Wednesday interview with Yahoo News on Sirius XM Channel 124. “The Republican candidate was running ads about immigration and Confederate statues. Virginians want to hear about bread and butter.”

Kaine also said that voters in his home state had rejected “divisiveness” and said that President Trump’s response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville — when a counter-protester was killed — “really, really made Virginians mad.” That resulted in a vote that amounted to “a repudiation of the Trump-style division.” Virginia, Kaine added, was “the first real test” of electoral strength since Trump notched his history-making victory one year ago — a hard-fought political battle in a bellwether state.

The overwhelming victory of Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam in the gubernatorial election put to rest the idea that anti-Trump energy would be wasted in the type of race where Democrats traditionally don’t show up in significant numbers.

Northam handily defeated Republican Ed Gillespie by nearly nine percentage points, outpacing polls that showed him with a slimmer lead heading into the contest.

Asked whether there was a message from Virginia’s vote for Democrats at the national level, Kaine said the lesson was, “We stick with bread-and-butter issues; we don’t fight with each other.”

He said Virginia Democrats closed ranks behind Northam while “at the same time, at the national level last week, you saw leaders trying to re-litigate ‘was the 2016 primary rigged or not?’”

“In Virginia we were together, trying to achieve a goal,” said Kaine.

The senator also said he detected “bipartisan momentum” in favor of overhauling the 2001 legislation known as an authorization for use of military force (AUMF), which has served as the legal underpinning for the global war on terrorism since just after 9/11.

And he detailed his proposed revamped AUMF, designed to give Congress more of a say where and against whom American military force could be used, notably reining in what qualifies as “associated forces” closely enough connected to al-Qaida or ISIS to face U.S. strikes.

“Our bill would put a much tighter definition” on the term, Kaine said, giving Congress the ability to decide which organizations qualify.

Kaine, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Trump administration has capably handled the confrontation with North Korea. As a team, “they’re playing a bad hand pretty well,” he said.

But “they just keep getting undercut by the president,” Kaine said.

Kaine noted that Trump has yet to nominate an ambassador to Seoul, has called for scrapping a U.S.-South Korea trade deal, and recently said on Twitter that direct talks with North Korea are a waste of time — a step seen as undermining Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts.

“The president’s got a good diplomatic team, if he lets them do their work,” Kaine said. “But he keeps taking steps that actually undermine their ability to do diplomacy in this tough, tough problem.”

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