Transcript: Sen. Tim Kaine on "Face the Nation," August 12, 2018

The following is a transcript of the interview with Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, that aired Sunday, August 12, 2018, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We traveled to Richmond late last week and talked with Virginia Democrat Senator Tim Kaine at the city's Black History and Cultural Center of Virginia about race -- and how Virginia and the country are recovering, one year after Charlottesville.

(Begin interview)

MARGARET BRENNAN: You have said that Virginia has a lot of scar tissue--

SEN. TIM KAINE: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --when it comes to race. But it feels, on many of these issues, that it's very much an open wound. What has actually changed since Charlottesville?

SEN. TIM KAINE: Um, I think what's changed is Charlottesville was shocking. It was shocking that, you know, a local guy like a Jason Kessler would call this "Unite the Right" rally. And it was shocking that people from out of state would come in and--

MARGARET BRENNAN: He was a UVA grad.

SEN. TIM KAINE: --intending. He- he's a Char- local guy. But most of the people arrested for violence that day were out-of-staters who came in to bring their hatred and bigotry. And that was shocking. And what I see that has changed a good bit in Virginia, Margaret, is people standing up and saying, "We're not going to let our state be defined this way." Energetic activism. It was seen most directly in the Virginia elections in November of 2017. We elected a statewide ticket, including the second African-American elected to statewide office, Justin Fairfax. We elected- Democrats elected more members of the lower legislative house than in any year since the 1870s. And who was elected? Of the 15 people that got elected with this energetic turnout, 11 of the 15 were women, African-American, Asian-American, Latino-American, immigrant-born, LGBT, transgender. It was a real rainbow coalition of who the Virginia of today is. And I--

MARGARET BRENNAN: And yet Corey Stewart, the man running against you, wants to protect Confederate monuments--

SEN. TIM KAINE: There- there--

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's countering what--

SEN. TIM KAINE: And-

MARGARET BRENNAN: --you're describing.

SEN. TIM KAINE: Yeah it is. But again, look who won last year -- it wasn't the people who want to secede or go backwards who were winning elections. Charlottesville was a shock. And what I think it has created is an energy of people of goodwill standing up and saying, "There will not be hate. Hate will not define who we are. We're on a path to progress and we're going to stay there."

MARGARET BRENNAN: When you were mayor of Richmond though--

SEN. TIM KAINE: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You dealt with some of these questions about how to represent -

SEN. TIM KAINE: All the time.

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- the Confederacy.

SEN. TIM KAINE: All the time.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This was the capital-

SEN. TIM KAINE: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --of the Confederacy.

SEN. TIM KAINE: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Does it trouble you that those monuments are still standing?

SEN. TIM KAINE: It doesn't trouble me that they're still standing. It means we have to always be in dialogue about our history and the right way to represent them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The rallying point, though, last year for the Unite the Right rally was the question of the removal of Robert E. Lee from Charlottesville.

SEN. TIM KAINE: It- that was not it, Margaret. I- I want to challenge you on that. The- Charlottesville was not about statues. It was about hatred. It was about bigotry and division. This was not a "save the statue" rally. It was a "Unite the Right" rally. Statues don't make you march around chanting, "Jews will not replace us." They don't make you say, "Blood and soil," or other slogans from Nazi youth rallies. I think the thing that's important to know about Charlottesville is to say it's about statues kind of diminishes the gravity of it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Nationwide now, there's a lot of conversation generally about race. But from President Trump himself, he makes the argument that the unemployment rate, the jobless rate for the African American community is at a record low. He- he frequently cites that-

SEN. TIM KAINE: Mhm. Mhm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --statistic to make the point that he's improving lives for the African-American community and for minorities. Do you think he has created real opportunity?

SEN. TIM KAINE: No. No I think he's been a failure. I- I- the unemployment rate is low generally, that's good. It was coming down when he took office, that's good. So I give him that. He doesn't get all the credit for it because it was coming down significantly when he took office. But how about- how about gaps in income? They are significant. How about gaps in wealth? They are significant. And what I- I think I'm most concerned about with this president is his penchant to divide us: to attack people because they're immigrants; to attack people because of their religion; to attack minorities; to use--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you--

SEN. TIM KAINE: --to use vulgar language to describe countries where people come who might be Latino or African. There is a concerted effort that he has been engaged in to divide people, including dividing them based on race. And nowhere was that more obvious - nowhere - than in the aftermath of Charlottesville. When somebody drove a car into a crowd in Columbus, Ohio, between his election and when he was inaugurated, and that somebody happened to be somebody from the Middle East, he called it terrorism and went to Columbus to comfort families who had been injured. When somebody of a Middle Eastern background drove a car into a crowd in Barcelona, he called it terrorism. But when this happened in Charlottesville, 90 miles from the White House, in the home of an archetypal American president, suddenly he says, "Well you know there's good people on both sides." He could not distinguish who was on the right side and who was on the wrong side in a white supremacist, neo-Nazi rally. And that was infuriating. Virginians really saw that for what it was. Because a state that's been scarred like we have, with the divisions of racism and hatred and slavery in the past-when we have a president who can't call it out, it was outrageous. The people who came to Charlottesville to demonstrate their hatred, they I'm sure had those emotions before there was a President Trump. But he's stoking it. - And I think that's very, very damning that he does that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why do you think that? Why do you think he's stoking that? Do you think he's racist?

SEN. TIM KAINE: I- I don't know him. I do not know him. I have no idea about who he is as a person. So whether it's- it's a sincere feeling, or whether he thinks it gets him some political edge or gain, I don't know the answer. But I don't know which of those two is worse. If- if it's not your view but you do it to try to get a political edge, and you try to stoke division, in some ways that's every bit as morally bad as holding views that are- that are bigoted or racist.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think that embracing this idea of identity politics is something that Democrats like yourself should be doing?

SEN. TIM KAINE: I don't call it identity politics. I- I know there's a critique that for Dems it's "identity politics" or it's "political correctness." Here's what I'd say: it's equality. Jefferson put equality into the Declaration of Independence as America's North Star. Now, he was an imperfect person. He couldn't live it. But at least he was far-sighted enough to see "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" is the first truth…We've got to be true to the equality principle. And we have to reject division and embrace equality. That's not identity politics. That's not political correctness. That's being true to the fundamental Virginia and American value that equality is the North Star we should pursue.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But advisers to the president, past advisers like Steve Bannon have said the more Democrats talk and focus on issues of identity--

SEN. TIM KAINE: Mhm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --issues of race, that it's a political benefit. Because the message is "We're about actually improving people's lives, economic nationalism." And that's going to continue to win for Republicans.

SEN. TIM KAINE: I'm not telling any Republican or any elected official what to say. But what I am saying is, as a nation, if we're not- if we're not committed to equality, what are we committed to?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mhm.

SEN. TIM KAINE: We're imperfect people. We may never get to equality in the- in the pure sense of it. But that's got to be our North Star. And- and- and if somebody says, "Oh that's identity politics" or "That's political correctness," you just say, "No, if we're not for equality as a nation, what are we?" Of course we are. That's the very foundation of who we are.

MARGARET BRENNAN:  Does that extend to the criminal justice system? Your Democratic colleague Elizabeth Warren says it's 100 percent racist, front to back.

SEN. TIM KAINE: There is- there are deep, deep challenges. You- does it extend to--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you agree with her?

SEN. TIM KAINE: Oh- I- it- there are systemic racial inequities in the criminal justice system, absolutely. - So when I'm saying we have this policy, we're not living it perfectly in any sphere. Criminal justice I think would be one where there are significant problems. Look at the disproportionate incarceration rates. Now to say the entire system is racist -- hey I know fantastic, you know, professionals, law enforcement professionals, judges, prosecutors, who are doing their best every day to reduce inequality. But if you just look at the results, the outcome, who is incarcerated…

MARGARET BRENNAN: …You have raised the issue of race and discrimination as directly tied to how the president discusses immigration as--

SEN. TIM KAINE: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --a national security threat.

SEN. TIM KAINE: Yeah, mhm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you mean by that? Because he makes the case, this is just about security, this is just about stopping child traffickers, and he's about rule of law.

SEN. TIM KAINE: He used vulgar language to describe certain countries…He uses unfair stereotypes: "Mexicans are rapists and criminals." I mean, give me a break. He will suggest that everybody who comes to the border is a member of MS-13. Give me a break. I mean, the statistics show that that's not true. So when somebody perpetuates a stereotype that's false, you have to ask, "Why are they doing that?" And I think he is- he is stoking division. And it's against folks from, you know, third-world countries; folks whose skin color are different than his; folks whose religion he doesn't approve of. What we need--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yet the Supreme Court upheld the travel ban that was predominantly applied to Muslim-majority countries.

SEN. TIM KAINE: They upheld version three, after version one was struck down, after version two was struck down. They finally did a version that could limp across the finish line in the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote. But even in that approval, the court called out the president's language.

I mean, look, the burden that's on the shoulder of any of us in leadership now is to try to pull this country together, not- not divide people…what I challenge the president on is, I don't think he's behaving like a "for all" guy. He is behaving in a way that divides people from one another, and we've got to have leaders at all levels who stand up and make plain that we are a "for all" nation or "for all" commonwealth.