Over the past two days, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Associated Press have all reported that Tim Kaine is emerging as a (if not the) favorite to become Hillary Clinton’s running mate. On Wednesday night, the Times reported that Bill Clinton is privately lobbying for the Virginia senator’s selection.
It’s not hard to see why the Clintons’ might be feeling the Kaine: The former governor of Virginia and current member of the Senate Armed Services Committee boasts both executive and foreign-policy experience, speaks fluent Spanish, has ties to a swing state, and is a known quantity, having been vetted by Democratic nominees in cycles past. In a race where most polls show Clinton with a solid lead, picking a moderate, experienced white man makes some tactical sense.
Still, Kaine has his drawbacks. His selection would prompt a 2017 special election to replace his seat. With Democrats consistently failing to turn out in off years, that could hand the GOP a precious vote in the upper chamber.
But the senator’s greatest liability may be his relationship to the party’s grassroots left. Kaine has alienated advocates for reproductive choice by promoting abstinence-focused education and laws making parental consent a prerequisite for abortion access. He’s frustrated environmentalists by supporting offshore drilling in the Atlantic and expanding construction of natural-gas terminals (that said, the rest of his environmental record is fairly strong and includes opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and support for the Clean Power Plan). And he bucked the will of most Senate Democrats — including progressive leaders Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — by voting to give the White House fast-track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (The senator has not taken an official position on the final draft of the deal).*
This week, Kaine provided left Democrats with two fresh reasons to see his selection as a repudiation of their agenda. On Monday, the senator added his name to two letters urging the federal government to scale back regulations on community and regional banks.
In a letter co-signed by 15 other Senate Democrats — and every Senate Republican — Kaine asked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to exempt community banks and credit unions from many of its regulatory requirements. In justifying these exemptions, the letter suggests that these regulations would make it more difficult for these small banks to continue “spurring economic growth” and that such rules are unnecessary, anyhow, since community banks “were not the primary cause of the financial crisis.”
This latter point is a bit of non sequitur. Just because a reckless activity was not the “primary cause” of the last global economic crisis doesn’t mean that activity isn’t worth preventing. According to the Intercept’s David Dayen, the rule Kaine proposes “could allow community banks and credit unions to sell high-risk mortgages or personal loans without the disclosure and ability to pay rules in place across the industry.” Such bad loans may not take down our financial system, but they could ruin the lives of the families that receive them.
In a second letter to the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Kaine and his co-signers argue that large regional banks like PNC, BB&T, and SunTrust should be exempt from two regulations meant to reduce their risk of collapse.
While Kaine stepped up to the plate for banking interests this week, he simultaneously snubbed consumer-advocacy groups. On Wednesday, Kaine was one of 13 Democratic senators to withhold his signature from a letter authored by Sherrod Brown, which called for strengthening new rules against abusive payday lenders. The senator’s office told the Huffington Post that he is “working on his own separate ‘Virginia-focused’” letter on payday lending.
For the left, the timing of Kaine’s decision to sign these letters may be as concerning as the substantive positions he takes within them. It’s possible that the senator didn’t take these stances in spite of the scrutiny they would receive at this point in the “veepstakes,” but rather because of that scrutiny: As Dayen notes, regional and community banks are a key source of Democratic fundraising. Kaine’s decision to back their interests in these letters could be intended, at least in part, as a way of boosting his credibility with these donors ahead of his addition to the party’s ticket. Which is to say, they could be designed to indicate that a Clinton-Kaine White House would be responsive to such donors’ concerns.
On Thursday, Kaine spokesperson Amy Dudley emphasized the senator’s broader comittment to financial reform. “Sen. Kaine is a strong supporter of Dodd Frank’s financial protections because certain financial institutions wreaked havoc on the American economy, hurting millions of Americans in the process and believes we need strong rules to stop that chaos from happening again,” Dudley said in a statement obtained by Politico. “The toughest regulation should be on the biggest and riskiest institutions. Credit unions, community banks and regional banks need to be carefully regulated, but the nature of the regulation can be different to ensure scarce resources are efficiently spent allowing regulators to focus on the bad actors.”
Regardless, Kaine began the week as a disappointing vice-presidential candidate to the Sanders-Warren wing of the Democratic Party, and will end it an even more disappointing one. On Thursday, the liberal advocacy groups Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee both announced their official opposition to Kaine’s selection.
Clinton is expected to reveal her pick at a rally in Florida this Saturday. According to the AP, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Labor Secretary Tom Perez accompany Kaine on Clinton’s short list.
*This article has been corrected to reflect that Senator Kaine has taken no position on the final draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.