The result has been heavy exposure for the junior senator from Virginia — and a new role for a former Democratic Party chairman whose top job description was defender-in-chief of the president.
Although Kaine has been thrown into subject matter he didn’t seek out, it may be exactly the role he was looking for.
A former missionary to Honduras, Kaine 55, has been preoccupied with the “divided political leadership class” for much of his career. Working his way up from Richmond city councilman to mayor, lieutenant governor and then governor, Kaine consistently cast himself as a bridge-builder before serving in the decidedly partisan role of party chairman.
Forging ties across the aisle is a huge challenge in the modern Senate, which is stocked with partisan lawmakers less interested in compromise than many of their predecessors. Kaine's approach is badly needed, his friends say, and could establish him as a leader in transforming an institution that by many accounts is broken.
“Tim is relentlessly optimistic,” said Mark R. Warner (D), Virginia’s other U.S. senator. “It may seem crazy at times, but that’s what this place needs — more of that relentless optimism.”
Kaine’s pairing with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to revise the War Powers Act has attracted international attention as Obama makes the case for intervention in Syria. Kaine called it a victory when the president sought congressional authority for the strike; at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, he said he now supports granting that authority.
“The Constitution reserves the power to initiate military action to Congress,” Kaine said at the hearing. “Five-hundred-and-
thirty-five people get to vote on that.
Venn diagram theory
Working with McCain is just one in a string of partnerships with Republicans that Kaine has formed during his first eight months in the Senate.
He has worked with Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) on overhauling the budget, and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) on an amendment calling for an end to the sequester.
During an interview before the Senate broke for August recess, Kaine noted that he had spent that morning meeting with Sen. Ronald H. Johnson (R-Wis.) in Johnson’s office on budget issues and the previous night having dinner with tea party hero Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). Through a spokesman, Cruz said that Kaine brings a “seriousness and a civility” to the Senate.
“We get along well because we are both big readers and legal nerds,” Kaine said of Cruz. “We talk about books we’re reading, and we talk about what motivates us.”