Sen. Tim Kaine Discusses War Powers Legislation With UVA Students

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine spoke at UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy Friday afternoon.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine spoke at UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy Friday afternoon. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

On Friday afternoon, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine spoke at the University of Virginia regarding the war powers resolution he is currently championing in the Senate – and he asked for some advice.

The Virginia Democrat, speaking to a packed house of students and community members at UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, said he has bipartisan support for the legislation, which would require the president to seek congressional approval before a military-led strike such as the one that killed Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Iraq this month.

Several Republican senators have joined Democrats in supporting Kaine’s legislation, which is co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, Todd Young of Indiana and Susan Collins of Maine. It could come to a vote as early as next week, depending on impeachment trial proceedings in the Senate.

Before that, though, Kaine wanted to take time out to talk to students.

“Any time I am in the middle of a discussion about matters of war and peace in Congress, I always come out and talk to young people,” he said, noting that he visited ROTC students at Virginia State University as tensions escalated in Syria, and visited Old Dominion University amid worries about ISIS, among other events. Students from the three branches of UVA’s ROTC program were in the audience on Friday.

“I find that you have the most stake in this,” Kaine said. “Your questions will challenge me to think in a better way about these things. That is why I wanted to come today.”

He got what he was looking for. Kaine, who also went to lunch with Batten students earlier in the day, spent almost an hour answering students’ questions and sharing his views on policy issues they raised.

Sen. Tim Kaine with Batten Dean Ian Solomon before the event.
Sen. Tim Kaine with Batten Dean Ian Solomon before the event. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

This is not a new issue for Kaine. The former Virginia governor, who has served in the U.S. Senate since 2013 and was Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate in 2016, has spent years advocating for legislation limiting presidents’ ability to use military force without Congressional approval.

He and others see his current proposed legislation as a return to the separation of powers defined in the Constitution, giving Congress the power to declare war while the president retains the ability to command the military and defend the U.S. from imminent threat. Those lines have been blurred time and again, Kaine noted, as the nature of warfare has changed.

“Almost since our founding, there have been differences in interpretation of these articles,” Batten School Dean Ian Solomon said as he introduced Kaine, whom he called “uniquely qualified to address today’s topic of war powers and an extraordinary role model of a life dedicated to public service.”

“Sen. Kaine has been working on this problem since he got to the Senate in January 2013,” Solomon said, noting that Kaine’s criticisms and advocacy have spanned both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations.

Part of his work, Kaine said, has roots at UVA, where the Miller Center for Public Affairs convened a National War Powers Commission in 2007 to study and recommend updates to the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

Kaine has been examining the relationship between congressional and presidential war powers since he took office in 2013.
Kaine has been examining the relationship between congressional and presidential war powers since he took office in 2013. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

When Kaine reviewed that report, he was not yet a senator. But he was deeply concerned about how and why Congress declared war against Iraq a few years earlier – especially because the declaration came on the eve of midterm elections in 2002.

“If there is one thing we should try to insulate from partisanship, it is this decision about whether or not to go to war,” Kaine said.

Kaine kept the Miller Center’s report on his desk for years, and, when he was elected to Congress, he decided to make updating and refining congressional war powers a central issue of his tenure.

“Since I have come to the Senate, I have taken my initial outrage in 2002, combined it with the intellectual product produced here at UVA, and devoted myself to this issue,” he said. 

Often, he noted, problems have come not just from executive overreach, but from congressional unwillingness to cast a vote on a tough, politically charged issue like declaring war or escalating violence. 

“Members of Congress have ducked these issues and so we have let presidents in both parties forever make these decisions on their own,” he said. “What do we miss when we do this? … We miss the debate that you get with congressional process. You don’t get real deliberation. All of us have thought we knew the answer to something, only to find out that someone else had a perspective we have not thought of. If there is one issue to make sure you expand and consider all perspectives, it’s this question of war.”

Kaine’s conversation with students was wide-ranging, from explaining the constitutional underpinnings dividing war powers between the executive and legislative branches to the up-to-the-moment implications of the strikes in Iraq and tensions with Iran.

Second-year student Kiwi Kiwinda told Kaine about his father’s military service in the Middle East and asked about the possibility of war with Iran. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)
Second-year student Kiwi Kiwinda told Kaine about his father’s military service in the Middle East and asked about the possibility of war with Iran. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Students questioned him about the nature of modern warfare, including cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns; the differences between dealing with nations and non-state actors like ISIS; the Iran nuclear accord; and what instability in the Middle East could mean for the United States’ relationship with Iran, Iraq and other global powers like Russia and China.

Some students had a very personal stake in their questions. One told Kaine about his father, who is currently deployed in the Middle East. Another told the senator about immigrating from Iran at the age of 6, and described how escalating violence in Iran over the past few weeks has affected her family.

As the event concluded, Kaine thanked students for their thoughtful questions, saying again that events like this help him think carefully and differently about the issues that come across his desk every day.

Solomon, for his part, was thrilled to see students get to have such substantive conversations with someone working directly on foreign and public policy.

“Senator Kaine has so many of the leadership qualities we hope to cultivate here at Batten,” Solomon said. “What a gift, if you are a student, at this stage where you are thinking about what you want to do, to have someone with such authority and credibility really take an interest in you and show you that he really takes your ideas into consideration as he works on these problems.”