Clinton Doubles Down on National Security With Tim Kaine Pick

The Democratic nominee hopes the Virginia senator can help convince voters Donald Trump is too dangerous to be commander in chief.


This article was updated on Saturday with comments from Kaine at a campaign rally in Miami.

This article was updated on Saturday with comments from Kaine at a campaign rally in Miami.

A Democratic presidential nominee with a résumé rich in foreign policy has chosen a running mate with a résumé rich in foreign policy.

Hillary Clinton’s choice, first-term Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, serves on the Senate’s Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees and has emerged as a leading liberal voice on national security. He’s best known for waging a relentless and at times lonely campaign against the White House’s ability to use military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria without explicit congressional authorization.

The Harvard-trained lawyer also happens to have been a mayor of Richmond; governor of Virginia, a key battleground state; and chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He is fluent in Spanish from his time as a Catholic missionary in Honduras and has been through all of this before, vetted but not ultimately chosen by the Democratic Party’s then-nominee Barack Obama in 2008.

The pick isn’t without risk. Like Clinton, many progressives believe Kaine is too close to Wall Street. While Kaine supports the Dodd-Frank legislation that imposes major regulations on the financial industry, he was one of 70 senators to recently sign a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau asking for looser regulations on regional banks and credit unions. A devout Catholic, he’s said that he’s personally opposed to abortion, which has alarmed some pro-choice advocates even though the Virginia lawmaker has a long record of supporting abortion rights.

Kaine describes himself as “boring” — a quality Clinton says she “loves about him” — and doesn’t bring the excitement that would have come from choosing a second woman, like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, or a Hispanic figure like Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Clinton’s calculus appears to be that he can help deliver Virginia and reinforce her primary line of attack against newly minted GOP nominee Donald Trump: that he is too dangerous to be commander in chief.

Making his debut as Clinton’s running mate at a large campaign rally in Miami on Saturday, Kaine wielded his fluency in both Spanish and national security issues as a bludgeon against Trump, zeroing in on the Republican presidential nominee’s doubts about NATO and his Russia-friendly rhetoric.

Kaine said being chosen by Clinton was not the only thing on his mind this week: His eldest son, a Marine, will deploy to Europe in a few days to “uphold America’s commitment to our NATO allies.”

“For me, it drives home the stakes in this election,” he said.

It was a pointed rejection of Trump’s extraordinary comments last week to the New York Times, in which the real estate tycoon suggested that under his leadership America might not come to the aid of Baltic countries in the NATO alliance if they came under attack from Russia.

To members of the U.S. military and allies “out there on the front lines,” Trump has given “an open invitation to [Russian President] Vladimir Putin to roll on in,” Kaine said. “Even a lot of Republicans say that’s dangerous.”

Kaine castigated Trump’s prime-time address Thursday at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland that portrayed the United States as a country descending into lawlessness and violence. He said the Republican candidate “trash talks” America and its global partners. At the interjection of a supporter in the audience, he quipped, “You’re right, he doesn’t trash talk everybody. He likes Vladimir Putin.”

Kaine’s speech Saturday also came amid fallout from nearly 20,000 Democratic National Committee emails released by WikiLeaks on Friday that raised fresh questions about alleged plotting against Clinton primary rival Bernie Sanders, just days before the Democratic National Convention kicks off Monday in Philadelphia. While WikiLeaks has not revealed the source of the emails, the DNC and a security firm say Russian hackers with links to Moscow were behind the theft.

Picking Kaine may do little to placate the progressive Democrats who flocked to Sanders, some of whom have pledged to protest Clinton during the Democratic Party’s upcoming convention. And the leaked DNC emails will fuel their suspicions that their candidate was treated unfairly.

Beyond Kaine’s stances on abortion and financial regulation, he also supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which emerged as a major wedge issue in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. Sanders forced the former secretary of state into opposing the international trade deal she once supported during the campaign, arguing — as Trump trumpeted over and over at the Republican convention last week — that it will cost American jobs.

At the same time, he is no dove. Kaine argues, as Clinton now does, that the United States should have intervened more aggressively when the Syrian civil war erupted more than five years ago. Like Clinton, he has broken with the White House and supports the creation of a no-fly zone over rebel-held parts of Syria. At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in December, Kaine said “the absence of the humanitarian zone [in Syria] will go down as one of the big mistakes that we’ve made,” comparing it to former President Bill Clinton’s hesitance to intervene in Rwanda in the 1990s.

Kaine has also argued that the White House lacks a plan for ousting Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad and has instead focused too much attention on the fight against the Islamic State.

“There’s a desire to defeat ISIL … but there hasn’t been a clear strategy vis-à-vis Assad,” he told NPR in October 2015. “These are two problems that are connected, and you can’t have a strategy that’s just about one.”

More broadly, Kaine has criticized what unnamed administration aides have described as one of Obama’s core foreign-policy beliefs.

“‘Don’t do stupid stuff.’ That’s not a big enough doctrine,” Kaine told reporters this fall. “You are also often not doing stuff that’s stupid not to do.”

Kaine wasn’t the only national security figure Clinton was considering, a sign of the importance she places on the issue substantively and as a line of attack against Trump.

On July 12, word leaked that she was considering James Stavridis, a retired admiral and former NATO commander. (He’s also a columnist for Foreign Policy.)

Although Stavridis has plenty of national security experience, he had never held elective office. His selection would have been a gamble that he could successfully venture into domestic political issues on the national stage.

Stavridis’s name arose as word emerged that Trump was considering naming a former senior military officer, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, as his running mate. Trump instead went with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence — like Kaine a safe, if not terribly exciting choice.

This isn’t the first time Kaine has had a shot at the White House. He was vetted as a pick for President Barack Obama in 2008, when he defeated Clinton for the nomination and eventually the White House. Kaine, then governor of Virginia, was one of the first Democrats of national stature to endorse the then-Illinois senator in a primary in which the Democratic establishment heavily favored Clinton, then a New York senator. In the end, Obama went with Senate foreign-policy veteran Joe Biden, balancing out his lack of experience in the area.

This time around, Kaine was one of the first senators to endorse Clinton and has used his foreign-policy credentials to criticize Trump’s “America First” neo-isolationist, anti-trade, anti-immigration foreign policy.

As a middle-aged, white, Catholic man, Kaine is not the most diverse of picks, but his fluency in Spanish could prove an asset on the campaign trail and with Latino voters. Clinton may have also felt that she had the freedom to make a safe, if not exactly inspiring, choice because she has already made history as the first female presidential nominee for a major party and already has the overwhelming support of Latinos and African-Americans.

But the biggest risk to the pick stems from what it will mean for her party’s ability to retake — and then hold — the Senate. Kaine’s replacement would be named by Democratic governor of Virginia (and longtime Clinton ally) Terry McAuliffe, so the party would keep the seat in the short term. However, under Virginia’s electoral rules Kaine’s replacement would stand for re-election in November 2017.

That would be 2017’s only Senate race — and with neither party expected to have a large majority, both Democrats and Republicans would be sure to pour in enormous resources. The winner of that race would then need to defend the seat again in 2018, giving Republicans a second chance at taking it back.

Dan De Luce contributed to this article.

Photo credit: The Washington Post/Contributor

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