Kaine: ‘I worry about the environment we’re in’

Democrats and Republicans sit on opposite sides of the aisle. Tonight they’ll be sitting in separate dugouts at Nationals Park at the annual congressional baseball game.

tim kaineEarlier in the day on Thursday, senators shared 400 pounds of pork barbecue, courtesy Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who started what has become an annual June bipartisan lunch gathering several years ago.

The mood at the barbecue this year was understandably tinged by the shooting of a Republican congressman, Steve Scalise, a GOP staff aide, a lobbyist who is a former Republican staffer and two Capitol Police on a baseball field in Alexandria on Wednesday.

The shooter, James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old unemployed home inspector from Illinois, was shot dead by police after unleashing a volley of bullets with a high-powered rifle. It was revealed later that Hodgkinson had been a volunteer on the presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and had been active on social media, often posting angry missives blasting Republicans.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., was among the 78 senators at the Isakson barbecue today. Kaine said senators talked at the lunch about the need to do something about the toxic tone that our political discourse has taken in recent years.

“I worry about the environment we’re in. It’s a lot of raw emotions, a lot of anger,” Kaine said in an interview with Augusta Free Press Thursday afternoon. “It’s been fashionable for people in politics, in government, to tear down government, and preach an anti-government message. It’s been fashionable now, not for just two or three years, but 15 or 20 years.

“Instead of being proud of the system we have, I mean, I lived in a military dictatorship, I know how people live around the world. Our system has warts, but it’s gotten much, much better. It’s been in vogue to trash the institutions and to talk badly about each other, and then that sends a very bad message.”

The civility at the Senate barbecue was longer-lived than the call for unity from President Trump in the hours immediately after the shooting.

“We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember everyone who serves in our nation’s capital because they all love our country,” Trump said Wednesday, adding: “We can all agree that we are blessed to be Americans. We are strongest when we are unified and when we work for the common good.”

But that was Wednesday. Thursday, the president was back to Twitter, blasting “Crooked H” and the “bad and conflicted people” in charge of the investigation into possible obstruction of justice charges against him following his controversial firing of FBI director James Comey.

“We all should look in the mirror. The president certainly should. The president talked about Second Amendment solutions during the campaign, if people didn’t like the outcome of the race,” said Kaine, who was the Democratic Party vice presidential nominee in 2016.

“But for all of us, policiing ourselves is the best thing to do,” Kaine said. “I think you know me, for 23 years, I’ve tried to disagree firmly if I disagree with somebody, but without making it personal ot trashing them. I’ve got a temper. I get mad on occasion. I’m not going to say I always meet the standard I set for myself, but I set a high standard for myself.

“If people who are in government demean each other and demean institutions, then why wouldn’t everyone else do that?”

The issue being raised in the media regarding the security of members of Congress is one that raises “conflicting feelings” for Kaine.

“One of the things that struck me yesterday was endless coverage of the shooting, but I’m sure there were other shootings in D.C. in the last 48 hours, and maybe even some people killed, and they didn’t have protection, and they didn’t get any attention,” Kaine said.

“You don’t get security unless you’re in leadership. We have wonderful security here at the Capitol, obviously, but when we’re out on the road, I don’t have any security. But that means I live like a regular person does.”

Story by Chris Graham

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