Bipartisanship may be a dirty word in national politics today, but members of the greater Washington Jewish community say it still has a chance if Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) occupies the vice president’s seat in the White House come January.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton announced Kaine as her running mate with a tweet late on July 22, just prior to the start of this week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
A Virginia senator since 2013 and governor from 2006 to 2010, the 58-year-old Kaine is seen as one of the more low-key politicians compared to others who were under consideration to be Clinton’s running mate. They included Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.
Kaine “is not someone who is given over to showmanship and theatrics,” said Rabbi Jack Moline, who serves as executive director of the Interfaith Alliance. “I do know that if you listen to him and you listen to the substance of what he says rather than just looking for him to entertain you, you will find that there is not a smarter person in government right now and one with a better understanding of our problems.”
Moline said Kaine’s hallmark while serving as governor of Virginia was his ability to guide the state through a budget crisis in the wake of a national economic downturn while raising the standard of living. He thinks this will prove important if Kaine becomes vice president.
“He is more concerned with the welfare of the nation than with the advancement of the party,” Moline said. “He is absolutely willing to call out people on both sides of the aisle when he thinks they’re wrong, and he has been absolutely willing to praise people on both sides of the aisle when he thinks they’re right. Those are qualities that used to be typical in Congress. Now they reside with very few people. And one of them is Tim Kaine.”
Moline, who has lived in Virginia for 30 years, said he has gotten to know Kaine as the onetime mayor of Richmond worked his way up the political ladder. They first met at a commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in Alexandria while Kaine was Richmond mayor, and Moline was taken aback by the official’s presence at the event which was a two-hour drive away.
But Kaine hinted that his political aspirations did not stop at city hall.
Moline has another connection to Kaine: Moline’s daughter and son-in-law met while both were working on Kaine’s gubernatorial campaign.
“If he hadn’t run for governor, I wouldn’t be a grandfather today,” Moline said jokingly. “I have an enormous debt of gratitude, but it’s not just for this very humorous circumstance. It is because I saw the impact he had on all these young people. He’s had an incredible influence on my children as far as their public service and their values.”
Kaine’s ability to work with Republicans is a trait that Virginia Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-District 41) said she witnessed up close while working as an advisor to Kaine on state and federal relations during his first year as governor.
“I think those of us that have worked with him have the utmost respect for him as a person and as a leader, and it’s just nice to see the rest of the country getting to see what we’ve known for so long,” she said.
Filler-Corn said she was “absolutely thrilled” with Clinton’s selection of Kaine and thinks he is the “most experienced individual that has been selected as a vice presidential candidate in history.” She also noted his achievement while governor of expanding the state’s pre-kindergarten program in the face of budget constraints.
“He’s never taken a job for the glory or for the title, he’s always been motivated and focused by the idea that he can make a real difference in people’s lives,” she said.
With Virginia a swing state in the presidential election, Kaine could have a crucial role in Democrats’ effort to win over undecided voters, which Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington executive director Ron Halber said made him the “smart political choice for Hillary Clinton.”
He said Kaine “is a moderate-centrist candidate who has also some strong progressives on both sides that will prove to be a great asset in trying to win over some of the white, male vote that [Republican presidential nominee Donald] Trump has been attracting.”
Kaine and others in the Senate came under scrutiny in March 2015 for not attending Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, during which the prime minister heavily criticized the then-proposed Iran nuclear deal. Kaine’s name is also missing from a recent letter to President Obama urging the completion of a new Memorandum of Understanding on U.S. military aid to Israel. Halber said that Kaine, who voted to approve the agreement in September, should not be viewed as anti-Israel simply because of these actions.
“I think it would be an incredibly foolish mistake to use his attendance at the speech as a barometer of pro-Israel support,” he said. “[Congressman] John Lewis did not attend the speech as well, and John Lewis is one of the most pivotal pro-Israel leaders in 30 years in the African-American caucus.”
Halber noted that the JCRC had opposed the agreement, but now that it is in place, the public should look to the future and focus on Iranian compliance, rather than judging politicians by a single vote.
“One of the problems that occurred in the community was that right-wing Jews accused left-wing Jews of having no sympathy for Israel,” he said. “People on the left accuse people on the right of being hawks, and both were wrong. I believe people can honestly disagree about the fate of the Iran deal — and this is coming from an organization that came out against it.”
Halber said Kaine is “intrinsically and intuitively” pro-Israel, having made several trips there, and thinks he would be active in the Middle East peace process. Halber also said he thinks a Clinton-Kaine administration would be one where there is “less public daylight” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government than has been the case with President Barack Obama.
“With the exception of the Iran deal, which for some is the only vote that matters, he has a long and strong history of supporting pro-Israel legislation,” he said.