WASHINGTON — In a campaign season of unexpected turns, presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s selection Friday of Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate was a rare safe bet. Kaine, a veteran of state and national office, is very much a known entity inside the Beltway – and is considered a foreign policy heavyweight, demonstrating a nuanced position on Israel that defies any easy characterization.
Kaine has been prominent on the Democratic scene since serving as governor of Virginia from 2006 to 2010. While managing the “Old Dominion,” Kaine also chaired the Democratic National Committee from 2009 to 2011.
The next year he defeated former Virginia senator and governor George Allen in a tight race for one of Virginia’s two senate seats. Representing a state with one of the highest percentages of current and former military members among its voters, Kaine became a prominent foreign policy voice among Capitol Hill Democrats.
The senator earned his leadership stripes supporting the administration during the 2015 battle over Senate validation of the Iran nuclear deal. With top Democrat Senator Charles Schumer of New York opposing the administration on the deal, Kaine filled the vacuum by helping to whip senators to support the administration on a fateful procedural vote that prevented the Senate from blocking the deal.
Considered a moderate rather than a progressive on foreign policy issues, Kaine also was vocal in his opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 2015 speech before Congress. Kaine worked behind the scenes to try to delay the speech, but when that failed, was among the first Democratic senators to announce that they would not attend the address.
In a statement explaining his position, Kaine said that “as a long-time supporter of the US-Israel relationship, I believe the timing of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress — just days before Israeli elections — is highly inappropriate.”
Arguing that holding the speech as planned would give an “appearance of US favoritism in a foreign election,” Kaine complained that “there is no reason to schedule this speech before Israeli voters go to the polls on March 17 and choose their own leadership.”
A former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East, Central Asia and terrorism, Kaine has also used his position to stress advocacy for Israel. During the Senate confirmation hearing of current US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers, Kaine used his entire question time to probe the former academic as to how she would defend Israel in the international body.
A co-sponsor of the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, Kaine is one of a number of Democrats endorsed by J Street, which says in its endorsement that Kaine “speaks of himself as a Truman Democrat, committed to making Israel a lasting home for the Jewish people that is safe, secure and at peace with its Palestinian neighbors.”
According to J Street’s endorsement, Kaine “is also supportive of an active role for the United States in achieving a two-state solution.”
During the 2014 Gaza conflict, Kaine emerged to the left of more hawkish Democrats like Senator Schumer during a closed-door briefing with AIPAC leadership. According to the New Yorker, Kaine was criticized by Schumer when he expressed concern that Israel’s leadership was leading the region away from a two-state solution.
Kaine, however, is hard to pigeonhole into a political mold. Later that same summer, he was part of a group of five senators who stayed over as the Senate went on in order to approve emergency funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The group included the two Senate leaders – Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid, and three foreign policy heavyweights – Kaine and Republicans Lindsay Graham and John McCain.
He also joined with Schumer, Graham and Senator Kelly Ayotte to draft a resolution during Operation Protective Edge in which the senators – according to a statement issued at the time — “reaffirmed the United States’ support for Israel’s right to defend its citizens and ensure the survival of the State of Israel; condemned unprovoked rocket fire at Israel; called on Hamas to immediately cease all rocket and other attacks against Israel; and called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the unity governing arrangement with Hamas and condemn the attacks on Israel.”
Kaine was particularly critical of the Hamas-Fatah unity government, complaining during Operation Protective Edge that “the decision by President Abbas to pursue a unity government with Hamas was almost certainly destined to reach this moment. For those of us who care about finding a two-state solution – a secure state of Israel living peacefully side by side with an independent Palestine – the recent actions by Hamas demonstrate that it has not changed its fundamental denial of Israel’s right to exist. No peace is possible with such a partner.”
“I call for Hamas to stop its unprovoked rocket attacks. And I also call on President Abbas to recognize that Hamas will not seek peace. He should separate the Palestinian Authority from this terrorist organization and both Israel and the Palestinian Authority should renew the hard quest for co-existence,” Kaine continued. “The blood shed by Israeli and Palestinian children is reason enough for leaders to reach beyond old grievances and tired ideologies.”
Israel is far from the only issue in which Kaine seems to favor nuance over the party line. A gun owner, he delivered a passionate speech on the Senate floor last month in favor of tightening restrictions on gun purchases. Kaine is a practicing Catholic who personally opposes abortion – but also described himself last week as “a strong supporter of Roe vs. Wade,” explaining that he believes “that women should make these decisions and government shouldn’t intrude.”
Kaine is considered to be close to both Clinton and President Barack Obama, and was seen as instrumental in helping Obama win the “purple” swing state of Virginia in both 2008 and 2012.
His influence in his adopted home state – Kaine is a native of Minnesota who grew up near Kansas City – has also impacted key cultural ties between Israel and the US. As governor, Kaine helped to bring the Israeli hummus company Sabra to the southern state, which became the US production center for the popular dip.