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Washington ‘unpredictable’: Senator Tim Kaine talks Trump, opioid crisis, budget cuts

“I think the first thing that comes to mind is it is just very unpredictable,” Kaine, who was Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, told the Daily Telegraph last week. “A lot of us are just not for sure from day to day what the White House is going to do. Is NATO obsolete or is NATO our friend? Are we into nation building or should we use missiles?”

But despite the uncertainty of what Trump will or won’t do next, Kaine still sees opportunities for bipartisan cooperation between Democrats and the Trump administration. Those opportunities include working on a bipartisan infrastructure deal to improve roads and bridges across the nation and making improvements to the Affordable Care Act, Kaine said.

“I think it is still early, and we are still in the first early 100 days,” Kaine said of the Trump administration. “In the Senate, I do feel like there are some opportunities. After the opportunity in the House to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed, we are in the middle of a lot of discussions. So there is some meaningful efforts underway on the health care side to look for meaningful solutions. I think there is also a lot of hope that the president will follow through on the infrastructure deal. That one would be a natural in terms of cooperation between the White House and Democrats.”

Kaine was asked about the long presidential campaign trail, and how he and Clinton handled their surprising loss last November. Kaine said he has remained in contact with Clinton.

“Yes I have,” Kaine said. “I saw a good bit of her in the two months after the elections. She had some events in Washington, and we were together. Now more by phone. It was Monday night when I (last) called her just to check in. It was an unusual loss. Every loss is painful. But when you win the popular vote, and there is this weird mismatch between the popular vote and the Electoral (College), and there is all of this stuff coming out of Russia, it is a hard wound to heal.”

Still Kaine was able to immediately get back to work after the election as a U.S. senator. Clinton, by comparison, had more time to reflect upon the election loss, and what went wrong.

“I only did the 105 day version of the campaign, and of course the Russians were not trying to cyber attack the campaign because of me,” Kaine said. “They didn’t like her (Clinton). The thing I enjoyed about our call Monday night was I could hear less stress and tension (in Clinton’s voice).”

Kaine said he was honored to travel across the country, and to meet everyday Americans, as part of the presidential campaign. Together he and Clinton attended 985 events in 105 days.

“Anne and I were both really honored to do it,” Kaine said of his wife Anne Holton, who often joined him on the campaign trail. “We came to know Hillary very well. We felt she would have been a superb president. We got to see what a good listener she was.”

But for now Kaine’s focus is back on the U.S. Senate, as well as helping his home state of Virginia. And one area of immediate concern is the opioid crisis that is ravaging the Commonwealth and other parts of the nation.

In addition to touring a drug treatment center in Southwest Virginia last week, Kaine also joined 19 of his Senate colleagues in urging Trump to address the nationwide opioid epidemic. Kaine said last year as part of the 21st Century Cures Act, Congress included $1 billion for the states to expand opioid addiction services, but nearly four months since the funding became available, it has still not been allocated to the states based upon need.

“I think I’ve told you this before, but it wasn’t until I set down with you guys I think in April of 2013, and you were talking to me about the problem right here in downtown Bluefield,” Kaine said of an earlier meeting with the Daily Telegraph’s editorial board that helped to alert him to the growing drug problem in both Southwest Virginia and neighboring Southern West Virginia. “I had just come from an economic round table in Tazewell. So every time I’ve done one of these since I do bring it up, and it is a very significant issue.”

Kaine said lawmakers passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act last year, a bipartisan measure that seeks to address all aspects of the epidemic, including prevention, law enforcement, treatment and recovery.

“We passed CARA, the Comprehensive Recovery Act, last year and it was very bipartisan, but didn’t necessarily appropriate the dollars to this,” Kaine said. “That will be a major part of the budget battle. We will follow through on funding more substance abuse prevention. Prevention is the key to this.”

Kaine has worked with the region’s congressional delegation in Washington, including U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and U.S. Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., on a number of bills in recent months dealing with the opioid crisis, including a proposed pharmacy lock-in measure aimed at preventing the practice of doctor shopping.

Kaine also is concerned about the lack of drug treatment facilities and beds for those who are seeking treatment for addiction.

“It really is very, very critical that we do it and provide more treatment,” Kaine said. “This will not be a part of the CR (Continuing Resolution), but as we get into the fiscal year 18 budget that will be very serious. Whether you are talking about just addiction services or if you want help for a mental health problem, there is a stigma in trying to get help for substance addiction. But this is an area when the person is ready to ask for help there really needs to be intermediate help.”

In other federal issues, Kaine said he doesn’t expect to see a government shutdown this spring. He simply points to the fact that Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House. Kaine said if majority Republicans can’t come to an agreement on a budget, they will shoulder the blame in the eyes of the public for a government shutdown.

Still Kaine has plenty of concerns about Trump’s proposed federal budget, which calls for the elimination of the Appalachian Regional Commission and significant cuts to the Economic Development Administration, as well as the elimination of agricultural funds and dramatic reductions in workforce training funds.

As part of his two-day swing through Southwest Virginia last week, Kaine said he visited places, and met with people, who would be impacted by proposed federal budget cuts.

“We heard at the (Bluestone Workforce Training) Center for Excellence about ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission) funding and Economic Development Administration money,” Kaine said. “Those monies have been very helpful.”

Kaine was just recently added to the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He hopes to fight for workforce training issues on the committee, and provide help to localities such as Tazewell County where efforts to retrain the regional workforce are continuing. For example, at the Bluestone Workforce Training Center for Excellence, efforts are underway to retrain and provide new job skills to former coal miners.

“I’m impressed,” Kaine said of the Tazewell County workforce training center. “They have done a good job with about 45 partners on that. That’s good. You build the training up, then you have to figure out ways to bring jobs in.”

Kaine said future government contracts could be a solution for rural parts of Southwest Virginia like Tazewell County.

“We were talking about who else in the region does manufacturing that could be potentially connected to defense contracting,” Kaine said of this discussion last week with officials in Tazewell County.

Kaine also toured the Appalachian Agency for Senior Citizens office in Tazewell County, and participated in a roundtable discussion at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise on economic development efforts. He also met with coal miners who are members of the United Mine Workers of America while in the region, and toured the not-yet-open Bristol Lifestyle Recovery Center

— Contact Charles Owens at [email protected]

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