“America’s Dad” was getting on his colleagues’ nerves. But he’s OK with that.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) objected to the Senate adjourning for the past two weekends — making the shutdown just a little more painful for senators by forcing some to stay in Washington.
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He says Republicans and Democrats privately complained to him about the quixotic maneuver, and some colleagues asked him to back down, but he didn’t budge.
“Recovering from the shutdown’s damage will be painful for federal employees, but I will do everything I can to prevent this from ever happening again,” Kaine said Friday in a statement.
Kaine’s weeks-long effort came to an end Friday after President Donald Trump announced an agreement to reopen the government for three weeks without the $5.7 billion in border wall money that he’s demanded. Trump threatened to declare a national emergency if lawmakers can’t come to an agreement on immigration and border security by Feb. 15.
Kaine on Friday said he’s aware that the reprieve is temporary and urged both parties to work toward a long-term deal to “ensure no one can ever again hold public servants hostage by using a government shutdown as a negotiating tactic.”
Keeping the Senate in session provided Kaine a high-profile platform to demand relief for the thousands of furloughed federal workers he represents in northern Virginia. In addition to keeping the Senate open, Kaine also mounted public pressure this week volunteering to serve food at Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen and holding a news conference with airport workers at the Ronald Reagan National Airport.
The shutdown has marked a big moment for Kaine, who largely avoided the spotlight after falling short in the 2016 election as Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate. Since then, he’s also bounced back by trouncing Corey Stewart in his 2018 reelection campaign.
Kaine, who has a reputation for getting along with Republicans and Democrats alike, acknowledged the inconvenience he caused senators who tend to have regimented schedules. It also forced a presiding officer — a member of the majority party, according to the rules of the Senate — to be present.
“Getting presiders isn’t so easy,” Kaine said. “All the senators who live closest to D.C. are Democrats, but we’re not presiders.”
Yet Kaine’s push wasn’t just an empty gesture. Earlier this month, Kaine struck a deal with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow the Senate to leave in exchange for legislation that guarantees back pay to federal employees hurt by the shutdown.
Kaine’s demands have led to some awkward scenes, such as last weekend, when he demanded the Senate stay in session during the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday until Senate leadership brought House-passed legislation to reopen the government. The Senate was open Saturday, but only three senators joined Kaine in the massive, near-empty chamber: Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and fellow Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner.
Kaine’s Senate colleagues didn’t criticize him publicly. When asked whether she was annoyed that Kaine was holding the Senate open last weekend, Collins, who presided over the session, replied “no.”
Republican Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) also said “every senator has the right to do what they believe in” while Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) described himself as a “strong supporter” of Kaine’s actions and said they help ensure that Congress is spending its time focused on reopening the government.
The shutdown had strained relationships between Democrats and Republicans on the Hill. And he predicted that the fight over the shutdown will prove to be tougher for the Senate to get over than the emotionally raw battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial nomination to the Supreme Court.
“This one will be tougher than Kavanaugh because the effect is so massive,” he said.
Despite the tensions, Kaine said he’s come to realize that his place is in the Senate. He added that the institution will soon face other important tests, including its response to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference.
“The next two years may be the reason I’m supposed to be in the Senate, that thought has occurred to me often,” Kaine said. “The Senate has the capacity to be an emergency break against bad behavior if we do our job right. I don’t have a hard time finding my motivation coming to work.”