Virginia's Democratic Lawmakers Look to Co-Exist in GOP-Controlled Washington

Jan 25, 2017

After a failed White House-bid, Senator Tim Kaine is setting his focus on re-election.
Credit Win McNamee/AP

Virginia Democrats are preparing to spend at least the next two years playing defense against the new Republican majorities in Washington. Correspondent Matt Laslo has this story on the new roles some in the party are preparing to play.

Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine had banked on spending the next four years in the White House, but now he has to spend the next two years convincing his fellow Virginians to send him back to Washington as a senator. To assist him in that effort he’s been named to the Health Education Labor and Pensions - or the HELP Committee. Kaine says it’s been a priority for him.

“For me HELP was the first committee I wanted to get on when I came here because as a mayor and a governor education and health are the top two line items in your budget.”

Kaine says his perch on the health committee will enable him to play a key role in both defending Obamacare from being dismantled and working with the GOP to improve the law.

“To be right in the middle of the battle on the Affordable Care Act, let’s reform it, let’s improve it, I’m for all of that, but the notion of repealing it would be a disaster, and I love having a front row seat to participate in that battle.”

While Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine lost the argument on Obamacare, Kaine says voters didn’t ask President Trump to come in and take the rug out from under them.

“Taking the lives and health of tens of millions of people and making them fear for their future and making them afraid and doing it without a replacement plan is so potentially catastrophic, and not just for healthcare, but for the American economy, because health care is 1/6th of the economy, that it’s really important we win this battle.”

Then there’s the guy who was rumored to be on the top of the list to replace Kaine if he became vice president. Well, that didn’t happen and now Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott is hoping to play a key role in any attempts to rewrite the nation’s criminal justice system.

“The states have shown that you can significantly reduce crime and save money, or you can play politics and codify a bunch of simple minded slogans and sound bites and end up wasting money and doing nothing about crime.”

To be right in the middle of the battle on the Affordable Care Act, let's reform it, let's improve it, I'm for all of that, but the notion of repealing it would be a disaster...

Scott doesn’t love Republican proposals to maintain some mandatory minimum sentencing requirements. He says even Republican states have moved forward with better plans that Congress needs to learn from.

“Texas for example was looking at a two billion dollar prison expansion required because of their growing prison population. They elected instead to spend about 10% of that on prevention, early intervention and rehabilitation and found that they could reduce crime and avoid building prisons. In fact they found they reduced crime so much they didn’t have to build any new prisons, they in fact closed some they had.”

As the top Democrat on the Committee on Education and Workforce, Scott says lawmakers need to focus on the nation’s education system, as well as its prisons.  

“By the time you the crime committed and calling the police, it’s too late to do anything effectively. And I think if president-elect Trump is willing to invest federal funds in doing something about the problem the best investment would be prevention, early intervention and rehabilitation - diverting people from criminal activity to begin with.”

With Democrats in the minority they have few outlets to get their agenda passed, but they’re promising to be a vocal minority which they’re hoping voters will reward them for in two years.