What Kaine was said to have said, and what he actually said
Story by Chris Graham
To hear John McCain’s Virginia campaign co-chair, Staunton Republican Del. Chris Saxman, tell it, Tim Kaine all but sold presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee Barack Obama down the river this week in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“We are glad Gov. Kaine is following John McCain’s leadership and has come to agree with John McCain and those military commanders who pushed for the troop surge and change in strategy to reduce violence in Iraq. We are also pleased to see him move away from Barack Obama’s Inflate Your Tires Comprehensive Energy Plan, and instead, move decidedly toward Sen. McCain’s All of the Above’ energy policy. With this shift, it appears Gov. Kaine is now campaigning to be John McCain’s vice president,” Saxman said in a statement released by the McCain campaign yesterday.
The next line in the press release from the McCain camp quoted Kaine in his Wednesday appearance on Blitzer’s “Situation Room” as saying in response to a question from Blitzer on the Iraq surge that “(t)he notion that more troops would mean more order, I think, is not a particularly controversial one,” the implication there being that Kaine stands in line with McCain and President Bush on the surge that has been roundly criticized by Democrats. The release then quoted Kaine responding to another question from Blitzer on offshore drilling as saying flatly, “I’m open to the exploration,” hinting that Kaine is breaking with Obama by pushing offshore drilling as a primary solution to the current energy crisis.
The transcript of the interview gives more detail to Kaine’s answers to both that puts to light the partisan politics behind the release.
Question from Blitzer: “Does John McCain deserve credit for pushing for that increase in U.S. troops a year or so ago that enabled the reduction in violence right now?”
Answer from Kaine: “Well, I don’t know if he deserves credit. I mean, the notion that more troops might lead to more stability, I don’t think, is a controversial one – or it shouldn’t have been.
“The thing that, you know, I’m struck by was how the generals, who at the beginning of the war told the Bush administration that more troops would needed to be do the job and maintain stability, they were busted back for saying that. And it seems like the Bush administration has woken up late to the notion that more troops might be more helpful.
“Look, our troops do a great job over there. That doesn’t change the fact that the rationale we were given is wrong and that we need to have a plausible strategy for withdrawing from Iraq. And I think that’s something that the prime minister, Al-Maliki, has recently said. And that is a – that’s what we need to be focused on, what is the strategy for American withdrawal.”
Blitzer asked a followup: “But a lot of people believe – and you know this – that if it had not been for that 30,000 or 40,000 increase in troops, the relative quiet or stability that’s developed in the Al-Anbar Province elsewhere in Iraq might not necessarily have taken place and that McCain was out on a limb pushing for that.”
Kaine’s answer: “Well, Wolf, again, I’ll just go back to it. The notion that more presence – more military presence – might lead to more order is not a controversial notion. I think the real question is, at the beginning of the war, when those who knew the military leaders were saying we needed more troops, they weren’t only turned down, but in some instances they were basically ridiculed or disciplined, told they were wrong, much like the estimates about the financial cost of the war. Oh, it’s not going to be that expensive. It will be $30 billion. We’re at $700 billion and climbing.
“This is a sad instance of the civilian leadership making poor decisions while our men and women on the front lines have been performing excellent in the service that they give when they’re there.”
A second followup from Blitzer on the subject: “What McCain says is he can guarantee that if you end this war the way he wants it to end, without a time line, to just get the job done, to win, the U.S. will never have to go back to Iraq. But he says if you do it like Senator Obama is recommending, a hard and fast 16-month time line, you never know what’s going to happen and the U.S. might, down the road, have to go back in.”
Kaine’s answer: “Well, you know, the problem, I think, Wolf, with the senator’s position is he says do it my way – no time, line let’s just have victory. He hasn’t been able to tell the American people what victory looks like. Is it being there for three years, five years, 10 years, being there for 100 years, as was suggested earlier this year?
“I think the virtues of a time line is you start to look at facts on the ground, what might change that will lead to an appropriate strategy for withdrawal. Now you have the Bush administration itself talking about the need to have a time horizon for withdrawal. You have the prime minister, Al-Maliki, basically saying that something similar to Senator Obama’s proposal is right. And then Senator Obama’s proposal coincides generally with the notion of the provincial elections that are held this fall and national elections next year.
“But Senator McCain hasn’t given a timeline, he hasn’t given a strategy, hasn’t defined what victory is. And I think that’s something that the American people – and especially men and women in service – are entitled to.”
What Kaine had to say here is hardly an example of Kaine “following John McCain’s leadership,” as Saxman intimated. Kaine is intensely critical of McCain and his allies in the Bush administration both for getting it wrong early in the Iraq war and for failing to agree with the Iraqi leadership today on the need for a timeline for withdrawal.
Issue #2 involves the discussion of offshore drilling.
Question from Blitzer: “McCain says it’s an important issue right now, the U.S. should be doing it. Senator Obama is not so sure, maybe as part of a comprehensive compromise he might go along with it.
Where do you stand personally on offshore oil drilling off the coast of Virginia?”
Answer from Kaine: “In Virginia, we’ve taken a position – both me as the governor and my legislature – that we would like to explore natural gas reserves 50 miles off the coast, not yet for drilling or production, but for – to explore, to determine the size of the reserve.
“The federal moratorium against offshore drilling on the Atlantic Coast was the federal government’s judgment that the costs outweighed the benefits. I think it’s time to reassess, to look at the benefits again. We need to determine the size of the Reserve. And then on the costs or consequences, how would it affect the environment, how would naval operations, which are so critical off the Virginia coast, be affected by significant drilling.
“But my position is I think you need to do the exploratory drilling to determine what we have.”
Blitzer said that it sounded to him that Kaine was in agreement more with John McCain than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Kaine objected to that assertion, and reiterated his openness to offshore drilling in Virginia.
Kaine: “I’m open to the exploration. We can only make a decision, I believe, about whether the federal – the Congressional moratorium should stay in place by doing a new assessment of both the costs and benefits and weighing them. And in order to do that, you need to look at consequences, but you also need to look at the size of the Reserve.
“Now, Senator Obama’s position is pretty clear. Yes, as part of a comprehensive plan, drilling could be considered as part of it. But first let’s drill in the nearly 70 million acres of land that has already been leased to oil companies for drilling. They have acreages leased already that could do significant good where they are not drilling. Before we wholesale hand over other acreages to them, let’s make them in the areas they currently have permission.”
Once again, this is hardly Kaine following McCain’s leadership, nor is it moving toward what Saxman characterized as McCain’s “All of the Above” energy policy.
(Rhetorical question – If McCain’s strategy is “All of the Above,” why doesn’t he talk about more than drilling anywhere but on his campaign website?)
I want to note here that I have a lot of respect for Chris Saxman, a middle-of-the-road Republican in the mold of the old John McCain, actually. I wish he hadn’t played this kind of politics with the Tim Kaine CNN interview, even as I understand that this is a political season, and that all is supposed to be fair in love and politics and the rest.
If I had my druthers, we wouldn’t have press statements made on quotes from interviews taken blatantly out of context. Who won and who lost would come down to hard work presenting a candidate and a series of messages to voters, and may the best person win.
We can still dream there.