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The Peninsula

Clinton’s Choice of Vice President: Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia

Published July 23, 2016
Category: South Korea

By Donald Manzullo

The day I left Congress in 2013 and became the head of KEI, Governor Tim Kaine was sworn in as a U.S. Senator from the Commonwealth of Virginia.  I did not have the opportunity to personally work with him on any issue in Congress, but I can share with you some anecdotal statements I have heard about him, his demeanor and style, and also his positions, especially with respect to trade and engagement with the world.

Senator Kaine is one of a handful of members of Congress to have served as a mayor of a major city (Richmond) and as a governor of a state (Virginia).  There is a belief in Washington that former mayors and governors make the best presidents because they have to manage a government body, work within a budget, and cooperate with members of the legislature from both political parties.  When I served in the House of Representatives, I observed that former mayors and governors often held the mindset that they were elected to Congress to help govern the nation and work together to reach consensus and compromise, regardless of party affiliation – a much broader and inclusive perspective than some who prided themselves on merely obstructing the process.

Senator Tim Kaine graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in economics, and while at Harvard Law School, he suspended his studies for one year to live in Honduras, where he worked with the Jesuits to help run a technical school.  He speaks fluent Spanish.  Senator Kaine practiced law for several years, and entered elected office in 1995 when he served on the City Council of Richmond, Virginia.  Three years later, Mr. Kaine was elected Mayor of Richmond (the capital of Virginia), and in 2001, he was elected Lieutenant Governor.  Four years later, he was elected Governor.  In Virginia, all governors are limited to serving just one term, so as his tenure was expiring, Governor Kaine became Chairman of the Democratic  National Committee (DNC), which formulates strategy, raises money and supports Democratic candidate at local state and federal levels.

When incumbent Senator Jim Webb announced his retirement, Governor Kaine quickly jumped into the race and won the seat during the 2012 election.  Even though Governor Kaine was the head of the Democratic Party apparatus, he still kept his reputation for bi-partisanship intact as he won more votes in his Senate race than Barack Obama during his presidential re-election bid in Virginia, even in areas that were previous strongholds for the Republicans.  The Commonwealth of Virginia has shifted in recent years from a reliable Republican or “Red State”[1] to an increasing politically competitive or “Purple State,” making elected officials of either party who win state-wide office appealing candidates for national office. The current governor of Virginia is also a Democrat.  Thus, Senator Kaine was a politically easier choice for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton because the other Senators on the “short-list” to be considered as her vice presidential running mate are from states that have Republican governors.[2]  As a result, Senator Kaine’s selection as Clinton’s running mate will not reduce the number of seats in the U.S. Senate currently held by Democrats. Plus, of all the states in the union, Virginia (also called “The Old Dominion State”) is also home to the fourth largest concentration of residents of Korean descent – nearly 71,000.

Exactly who is Tim Kaine and what are his views on international trade and America’s role in the world?  In an interview with the Associated Press, Senator Kaine described himself as a “Harry Truman Democrat,” after he proudly showed off to the reporter an autographed memoir of the nation’s 33rd president.  President Truman’s administration is credited with instituting the post-WWII international order, including the Marshall Plan, the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and responding forcefully to counter the unprovoked invasion of the Republic of Korea by North Korea under the auspices of the newly created United Nations.  Senator Kaine said in this interview, “Some people say we’ve [the United States] got to be the indispensable nation.  I just want to be the exemplary nation.  Indispensable sounds like you’re trying to put your nose in everybody else’s business.”

Senator Tim Kaine serves on four committees, including Armed Services and Foreign Relations.  He is the only U.S. Senator to simultaneously sit on both of these key committees.  On Armed Services, he is the senior Democrat on the Readiness Subcommittee and also serves on the Emerging Threats Subcommittee, which deals with North Korea.  The Old Dominion State is host to the immense U.S. naval presence in Norfolk.  In addition, Hampton Road, Virginia is America’s eighth largest port with nearly $72 billion in total trade that traversed through this region in 2015.  Part of that trade includes South Korea. Exports of merchandise goods from Virginia to Korea increased 48 percent since 2011 (the year prior to the implementation of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement or KORUS FTA), reaching $486 million in 2015.  Top Virginia exports to Korea include chemicals (up 81 percent since 2011); food manufactures (up 244 percent); and computer and electronic products (up 355 percent).  In fact, according to the U.S. Commerce Department, Virginia experienced an $89 million trade surplus in merchandise goods with Korea in 2015.

As a result, Senator Kaine has taken several legislative actions that have advanced not only his personal inquisitiveness into international affairs, but also reflects the interests of his state.  He was the Senate author of legislation (S.Con.Res. 20) introduced shortly before the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice Agreement to encourage peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula.  Earlier this year, he spoke on the Senate floor and voted for legislation to bolster sanctions against North Korea, which resulted in additional actions by the Obama Administration to further isolate the regime.

Of notable interest on trade, Senator Kaine bucked his party leadership last year when he voted to end a parliamentary roadblock to bring up the legislation granting President Obama Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks.  Shortly thereafter, he voted in the affirmative on the final version of that bill, which was sent to the President’s desk for his signature.  When he voted for TPA, Senator Kaine said, “I am pleased…the Senate…completed the passage of four related trade bills.  We have given the President the same power to negotiate trade deals that has been provided to every President since 1974. …In a Virginia that was founded to promote trade and that still maintains an aggressive and optimistic global posture, these bills will help our workers, companies and farms find new export customers.”

More recently, Senator Kaine was asked his opinion of the TPP agreement, which was finalized and signed by 12 Asia-Pacific Rim countries, including Japan, Mexico, and Canada, last February.  He stated that there is much in the agreement that he likes with an upgrade in labor and environmental standards, along with enhanced intellectual property protections.  However, he has “significant concerns” regarding the dispute resolution mechanism in the TPP.  With merchandise exports from Virginia having increased by 15 percent to the 12-member TPP region, since 2011 to $6.4 billion, it will be interesting to see if Senator Kaine can retain his overall optimistic position on the TPP.

Presidential tickets are designed to attract the maximum voter support, and the Clinton-Kaine ticket is no exception.  It will be an interesting campaign to see the two spar against the Trump-Pence team.

Donald Manzullo is President and CEO of Korea Economic Institute and former Member of U.S. Congress (1993-2013). The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. Fifth Fleet’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.



[1] Republican candidates for president have won the majority vote in Virginia every cycle since 1952 (excepting 1964) until 2008.

[2] Governors are allowed to appoint an individual (including themselves) to temporarily fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat until the next election cycle when the appointed Senator must run for the office.  Democrat Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker both represent states (Massachusetts and New Jersey, respectively) that have Republican governors.  If Hillary Clinton selected either one of them as her vice presidential nominee, this would have given the opportunity to the Republican governor of that state to appoint a fellow Republican to fill that Senate seat through 2018 if she won the presidency.

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