Here’s a Virginia politician with presidential potential — but not who you think | Columnists

Jeff Schapiro


Last Saturday afternoon, as the US Senate prepared to begin its 3 p.m. vote on the $739 billion economic package, Democrat Mark Warner was in his office in the Hart Building. His Apple Watch rang, signaling that he had a call. He did not indicate from whom. This happens often.

The caller was Joe Biden. He wanted to thank Warner for helping Krysten Sinema from Arizona.

Sinema’s approval of the Cut Inflation Act – notwithstanding his last-minute demand to preserve a tax loophole for the ultra-wealthy private equity mob – secured passage through the Senate, albeit with only Democratic votes. It would be the first step toward congressional approval and another win for an unpopular president some Democrats want to get rid of in 2024.

Warner is not one of them, although it should come as no surprise that after big days for him like Saturday and Sunday, he gets calls from top Democrats – former Cabinet officials, former governors, fundraisers and technical officials, who push him to think about national office, as he briefly did more than 15 years ago.

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Later Saturday, after playing on the phone with Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin — himself flirting with a presidential bid, despite Donald Trump’s apparent lock on the GOP nomination — Warner and Youngkin finally connected. Youngkin was returning Warner’s call.

The senator, who 20 years ago was — as Youngkin is now — a rookie governor learning on the job, wanted to talk with Youngkin about subsidies to state semiconductor companies as part of a Warner-managed measure, signed by Biden on Tuesday, aimed at reducing U.S. reliance on Asian-made chips, particularly China-threatened Taiwan.

Youngkin wanted Warner’s thoughts on federal aid to flood-ravaged southwest Virginia, an area they both wore for governor that is worn down by poverty and ill health and where Warner is planning a swing this month. I bet he’ll have a lot to say about Republicans resisting insulin price caps.

It’s good to be the senior senator from Virginia: you are important. Other important people call you, sometimes out of the blue. Other important people call you back.

But for Warner, there are more telling measures of efficiency. Elected in 2020 to a third six-year term, Warner – for whom the Collaborative Senate was initially an awkward fit for someone used to wielding largely unchecked executive power as governor and investor in information technology, has had a say in some of the Senate’s biggest issues.

That includes, as vice chairman of the intelligence committee that Warner now heads, the 2020 bipartisan investigation documenting Russian interference in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf.

Additionally, the 2021 infrastructure bill — a first splash for Biden — named after Warner’s Republican predecessor, John Warner, and for Virginia alone meant more than $8 billion for residents. roads, bridges and airports.

The Infrastructure Bill reflected one of Mark Warner’s defining characteristics: in an age when politics is about extremes, Warner is always looking for the middle. The infrastructure bill was the work of 10 senators – five Democrats, five Republicans.

They included the two maverick Democrats whom Warner, in the climate-focused, tax-fattened, deficit-cutting IRA haggle, was tasked with bringing into the fold: Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sinema .

Warner practices as a senator what was his trademark as a governor: the political equivalent of horse-whispering. His flagship achievement as governor — a $1.4 billion tax hike in 2004 for schools, cops and health care — was born out of a relentless schmoozing of centrist Republicans who would break with legislative majorities. of their party.

This tax increase, while violating a promise he made as a candidate in 2001, propelled Warner into the presidential orbit. It was a short-lived exploratory effort that gave way to his first Senate victory in 2008, when — as a measure of his bipartisan appeal — Warner edged out Barack Obama in Virginia, which would tip the Democrats to the presidency for the first time since 1964. .

In what is likely to become Washington tradition, Warner visited Manchin on his houseboat on the Potomac River before the vote to discuss the fine print of the legislation, only to get caught in a downpour. Warner swapped his soggy suit for Manchin’s shorts and t-shirt. A Manchin assistant the next day returned the costume, cleaned and ironed.

Ahead of the final vote on Sunday, Warner thwarted a potential last-minute Sinema defection with an amendment, approved in a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris, that would partly fund a 15% minimum corporate tax with accounting mysteries to protect small businesses. Sinema feared being affected by the new levy.

These busy weeks for Warner show that he has become as a senator what he initially resisted: an institutionalist who works within the system and worries that the dismantling of certain Senate traditions has made it what a toxic place. As a baby boomer – Warner is 67 – he is a bridge between the gray hair of the Senate and his Generation X.

The national profile he achieved as a senator is complemented by his roots – personal and political. Warner was born in Indiana, a red state; grew up in blue Connecticut and won elected office in competitive Virginia, where Republican Youngkin’s 2021 win suggests the state is still purple.

The dump-Biden movement — again, Warner doesn’t want to be part of it and favors him for a second term — could fizzle out if midterms aren’t deadly for Democrats. But what is lost in considering Warner for the presidency – or considering him – if Biden steps down, especially given the oversupply of overly liberal alternatives within the Democratic Party?

Then, again, there is always 2026.

Warner is considering a fourth term in the Senate and Youngkin, who is finishing his four years as governor, is reportedly looking for a new job.

Contact Jeff E. Schapiro at (804) 649-6814 or [email protected] Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter, @RTDSchapiro.

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