Nov. 18--U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, who returned to Capitol Hill this week after his failed bid for the vice presidency, said Thursday he won't seek the presidency in 2020.
"I want to be in the Senate for a long time. I've learned about what I'm good at and, frankly, where I think I can do the most good," said Kaine, who acknowledged his goal remains to follow in the footsteps of former Virginia Sen. John Warner, who served 30 years in the chamber.
In a wide-ranging telephone interview from his Senate office, the Virginia Democrat looked back briefly at the presidential campaign, noted where he'll focus his attention in Congress and expressed a combination of trepidation and guarded optimism about President-elect Donald Trump's administration.
Kaine, who is running for a second six-year term in 2018, said he doesn't think the executive branch of the federal government needs repairs, but the legislative branch "needs a lot of fixing."
While he and Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton lost the Nov. 8 election, Kaine said he's proud to have won the popular vote nationally, along with Virginia's 13 electoral votes. He noted that Clinton carried the state by a larger vote margin than President Barack Obama in 2012.
When asked why they lost, Kaine offered few specifics. He noted Clinton faced a challenge as the first female nominee from a major party and Democrats have only twice won the White House more than two consecutive terms since the party's founding.
"There are many, many other factors," he said. "I can't be completely objective about them because I'm in the middle of them."
He returned to Washington on Tuesday after a week off with his family, including a brief getaway to the Outer Banks with his wife, former state Secretary of Education Anne Holton.
He and others in the Senate and House of Representatives are back in session after a lengthy recess to face a Dec. 9 deadline to pass a spending bill before the government runs out of money. Trump has asked the GOP-controlled Congress to pass a temporary spending bill to fund the government until March 2017 so his administration can help shape the rest of the fiscal year.
Kaine remains focused on defense, foreign policy and workforce issues, and said he's pleased Trump wants to end the automatic budget cuts in military and domestic programs know as sequestration. But whether lawmakers and the incoming president can find the hundreds of billions in new revenues or other spending reductions to undo the cuts isn't clear, Kaine said.
"It's too early to tell," he said.
Kaine strongly condemned one of Trump's first staff appointments but said he wants to see specifics of the Republican's executive actions or proposed legislation on issues such as climate change, health care and immigration before offering his views on what might happen.
"I don't necessarily assume that everything that was said on the campaign trail will be done," Kaine said.
He was encouraged that Trump already has signaled he's changed or softened his views on some of his hard-line campaign stances. For example, the Republican now says he considers marriage equality to be a settled issue.
Trump, who repeatedly vowed to abolish the Affordable Care Act, said Sunday he wants to keep popular and expensive provisions such as permitting young adults to stay on their parents' insurance and protecting anyone with a pre-existing medical condition from being denied coverage.
But Kaine is "nervous" about Trump's unclear plans to deport millions of people illegally in the U.S., and the president-elect's view that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese.
"I find that highly frightening," Kaine said.
Nonetheless, Kaine said, Trump must be given room to lay out specific proposals rather than campaign promises.
"I don't think we need to prejudge actions that he may take and then opine about them. ... He gets the ability to say, 'OK, this is what we're trying to do,' " Kaine said.
But Kaine vows to continue loudly objecting to Trump naming Norfolk native Steve Bannon as his chief White House strategist and senior counselor.
"When your top appointment in the White House -- your principal adviser -- is somebody with ties to white nationalism and anti-Semitism, that is exactly in my view what a president should not do," Kaine said.
"I don't think that's something that should ever be normalized. ... This is a very big thing that is highly disturbing. ... We're not going to allow anti-Semitism and white nationalism to be normalized in the greatest government in the world."
Kaine, known for his easygoing style, said he learned something fundamental about himself during the grueling campaign that took him and a phalanx of aides, Secret Service agents and news reporters to 40 states over 105 days.
"I'm not into the titles and trappings," he said. "Flying around in a jet and having security details and being in limos. It often felt cool, but it never felt like me."
It struck him, he said, on Nov. 9 when the multicar detail of Secret Service agents dropped him off at his Richmond home, ending their tour with him.
"I wanted to shake everybody's hand. That was very emotional," Kaine recalled. "But when I was inside 15 minutes later -- all the cars had pulled away -- I had an enormous feeling of relief ... to just become a regular citizen again.''
It felt good "to go back to a neighborhood where I could go to the bookstore and nobody had to check it out before I walked in. I could walk up to Stir Crazy and get a cup of coffee."
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