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Hillary Clinton’s VP Short List Is Short on Progressives

While Sen. Elizabeth Warren remains an unlikely choice, Clinton’s other potential picks include centrists Tim Kaine and Julian Castro.

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Part of the Series

Hillary Clinton’s “short list” of likely running mates, according to numerous media reports, is down to three names: Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, President Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Julian Castro and the progressive icon Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

As of now, Tim Kaine and Julian Castro seem to be Clinton’s top picks.

But as I pointed out in a recent Truthout article, the rumors of Warren as a potential running mate for Clinton are likely just a dog-and-pony show to appease “Warren Wing” progressives and Bernie Sanders’ supporters. Clinton and the Democrats would likely be reluctant to rankle their Wall Street allies by choosing such a fierce opponent of the Wall Street lobby, out of fear of losing their constant flow of donations.

These suspicions were largely confirmed five days later when Politico’s Ben White, a veteran Wall Street journalist, interviewed a dozen “major Democratic donors in the financial services industry”and reported that they “despised Warren’s attacks on the financial industry,” and if “Clinton surprises them and taps Warren, big donations from the industry could vanish.” These donors, he added, “saw little chance that Clinton would pick the liberal firebrand as her vice presidential nominee.”

In light of this, the two others names on the reported short list deserve to be scrutinized, especially by those who are already skeptical of Clinton and hope for a progressive candidate to emerge. While there is always the possibility of a surprise candidate (as when Sarah Palin was introduced to the country in 2008), as of now, Kaine and Castro seem to be Clinton’s top picks.

While Warren is well known to progressives, Kaine and Castro are not. What do they believe in? Where do they get their financial support? And, most importantly, do they offer progressives any hope that the ticket will not be just another pair of status quo politicians? An examination of their records and stances suggest progressives may be left wanting, should one of these politicians be tapped as Clinton’s running mate.

Tim Kaine: Why Democrats Elevated Him to the National Stage

Tim Kaine was first introduced to the US shortly after he became governor of Virginia, when he was chosen to give the Democratic Party’s rebuttal to President Bush’s State of the Union (SOTU) in 2006. The speech was given at a time when Bush’s approval rating was near its bottom — Hurricane Katrina had occurred just months earlier, and it was during the height of violence in the contemptable, illegal war in Iraq that the Democrats enabled. The speech was weak and timid — Kaine not only failed to condemn the war in Iraq, but only uttered the word “Iraq” three times while praising the soldiers for “rebuilding the nation,” a ridiculous way to describe what was going on in that country.

But the selection of Kaine was quite deliberate; the Democrats were hoping to elevate him nationally and bring Virginia back into their column, which is partly why they chose another Virginia politician, Jim Webb, to give the SOTU response a year later. The strategy seems to have worked. The last three senatorial elections in the state have been won by Democrats, and Obama took Virginia in 2008 and 2012 after Republicans had carried the state for 40 consecutive years prior. Meanwhile, Kaine’s résumé kept growing: He termed out as governor, replaced Howard Dean as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and won a Senate seat in 2012. Ironically, the fact that Virginia has become reliably blue means Clinton may not need Kaine to carry the state.

Kaine’s personal position and reputation as a “pro-life Democrat” remains a major political concern for many Democrats.

But horse-race politics aside, Kaine’s record is quite likely to turn off progressives, just as his 2006 rebuttal speech did. He has a blurry stance on abortion that seems to have evolved to suit his political needs. He did nothing to stop the death penalty in Virginia despite declaring a personal opposition to capital punishment. He has affiliations with the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). He has accepted money from the likes of Bain Capital, and he has come out on the wrong side on numerous trade and taxation policies. All in all, Kaine’s record leans even more conservative than Clinton’s does.

Kaine on Abortion and the Death Penalty

One aspect of Tim Kaine’s record that will no doubt generate controversy is his waffling on reproductive rights. Kaine, a vocal Catholic, was once described by the anti-choice group Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) as a “friend” of the organization and a longtime “pro-life Democrat.” The group’s executive director Kristen Day stated in October 2012, “We support [then DNC] Chairman Kaine because of his record and work with DFLA. While Chair of the DNC, he supported pro-life Democrats and his policies help elect pro-life elected officials.”

Day also praised Kaine, then the governor of Virginia, for signing into law a bill that enabled pro-life license plates to be issued (though not with public funds). Abortion rights activists said the act “runs afoul of his obligations as [DNC] chairman,” according to The Washington Post.

Kaine changed the language on his website in 2012 to say he personally opposed abortion, but would support pro-choice policies as a matter of public policy. Groups like the DFLA promptly rescinded their endorsements. Still, Kaine’s personal position and reputation as a “pro-life Democrat” remains a major political concern for many Democrats. As recently as 2014 ThinkProgress reported that Kaine was urging President Obama to appoint a “pro-life, pro-gun” judge for a lifetime term to the federal bench, to the anger of many liberals and progressives.

Clinton is making reproductive rights a major emphasis of her presidential campaign and, as a Vox article observes, “picking Kaine would result in a very mixed message about the ticket’s commitment to reproductive rights.” Clinton has already been attacking the GOP nominee, rightly, for his “horrific” comment about punishing women who have abortions. Donald Trump has also changed his position on the issue to suit his political needs. Clinton’s attacks on Trump concerning issues of reproductive rights may seem less credible if her running mate is not strong or consistent on these issues.

When he was still espousing opposition to abortion, Kaine argued that he was also taking a “pro-life” stance in relation to the death penalty, which he vocally opposed. As a lawyer, he used to defend death row cases pro bono, according to the Post. However, when Kaine became governor of a state where capital punishment is legal, he promised “voters he would not block the state’s death penalty machinery, despite his personal beliefs.” Of course, governors don’t have unilateral power to change laws, but as the Post noted, several “other Catholic governors have found ways to curtail executions on their watches,” by commuting sentences or issuing moratoriums. And since Kaine departed, Virginia has radically reduced executions, following a nationwide trend.

Hillary Clinton supports the death penalty, despite the fact there have been at least 158 exonerations of wrongly convicted defendants on death row and the practice is systematically biased against Black defendants. While capital punishment is still supported by a majority of the US public, her support of it does not go over well with the Sanders crowd who, unlike Clinton and every single Republican candidate, is a staunch opponent of the death penalty and made it a campaign issue.

Kaine: The DLC, Taxation and the Trans-Pacific Partnership

On economic issues, Kaine is also unlikely to please progressives. Kaine has many associations with the DLC, the once-powerful group of corporate-funded “pro-business,” centrist “New Democrats” who pushed the party far to the right. Truthout has documented Hillary Clinton’s long history with the DLC, which is one reason she is opposed so strongly from her left. Kaine comes from the same mold. While the DLC is no longer in action, archived screen shots from its website show that Kaine was featured on the cover of their flagship magazine in 2006, celebrating “the Year of the Governor,” for which he penned an essay demonstrating how he used DLC principles to “win strong in a red state.”

In 2008 when President-Elect Obama had a chance to choose a chair for the DNC, he replaced Howard Dean (who was popular among progressives at the time), with Kaine. The DLC was staunch in its opposition to Dean, and helped promote Kaine as an alternative. He won and soon enough Dean’s push for a “50-state strategy” became a memory. After President-Elect Obama selected him as chairman, a Republican strategist on CNN described him as a “moderate southerner … a DLC-type comporting to the centrist image Obama is trying to project.” Liberals described him in much the same way. “Virginia governor Tim Kaine is, in many ways, the product of Sam Nunn and the DLC’s successes,” wrote Glenn Hurowitz in The Huffington Post, in 2011.

Kaine’s affiliation with the DLC may help explain some of his opposition to progressive tax policies. For instance, he said in a late 2011 senatorial debate with George Allen that he opposed a millionaire’s tax — otherwise known as the “[Warren] Buffet rule,” which was a major talking point for Democrats during the 2012 election.

Kaine’s campaign finance reports are also telling. According to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), more than half of his PAC money comes from business, compared with only 23 percent, which comes from labor. CRP also shows that a huge amount of his campaign donations come from finance and securities and other Wall Street sources.

Of particular importance is that Kaine, along with Wall Street, supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This issue is an especially tricky one for Clinton. Big business supports the TPP strongly as does Third Way (essentially the DLC’s successor), while virtually every progressive organization opposes it. Clinton supported TPP aggressively until she changed her mind just in time for the Democratic Primary.

But the corporate wing of the party — as well as many of Clinton’s critics on the left — are not convinced her opposition is real. “Everyone knew where she was on [TPP]and where she will be, but given the necessities of the moment and a tough Democratic primary, she felt she needed to go there initially,” New Democratic Coalition Chairman Rep. Ron Kind told the Guardian.

Given Clinton’s stated opposition to the trade deal, choosing a running mate who strongly supports TPP would help ease the mind of the big corporations who are lobbying for it. Kaine not only supports TPP, but also gets his own share of Wall Street money, indicating that unlike with Warren, Wall Street is not the least bit threatened by Kaine.

Julian Castro: The First Latino Vice President?

Another vocal supporter of the TPP is the remaining name on Clinton’s short list: HUD Secretary Julian Castro.

In some ways, Castro’s story aligns with President Obama’s. Like Obama he blew up on the national stage during a widely praised speech about his story of living the “American dream,” which he gave at the 2012 Democratic National Convention at a young age. His convention speech became such a hit that Jimmy Fallon parodied it on national television and a portion of it was featured as a “moment of Zen” on “The Daily Show.”

We don’t yet know what industries are seeking Castro as an ally, or whether he associates with the New Democrats, like his brother.

Like Kaine’s selection to give the 2006 SOTU rebuttal, Castro’s selection to speak at the convention was very deliberate. The party sensed the young Latino politician could become a major political star who could make history, perhaps as the first Latino president. The first such reference to such a scenario came from former Bush advisor Mark McKinnon, who suggested this to The New York Times magazine in 2010.

“Julian Castro has a very good chance of becoming the first Hispanic president of the United States,” McKinnon said. Castro also reached a deal to publish his memoirs — a rite of passage for those with ambitions for national office — in 2015, although the project has since been delayed due to Cabinet rules. The Washington Post’s Jaime Fuller joked in 2014 that Castro had been asked about being vice president hundreds of times, which Fuller quipped was “only a slight exaggeration.”Clinton told ABC’s Robin Roberts that she was asked about Castro as a potential running mate constantly.

Castro’s Mysteries

Castro’s rise to becoming HUD secretary and one of the Democrats’ most popular faces started in San Antonio where he served as a city council member and then mayor, until his 2014 appointment by President Obama.

One advantage Castro will have over Kaine and many other politicians is that because he has never served in Congress or run for federal office, it is hard to examine his financial backers or even find out his statements on scores of issues. Groups like the CRP make it easy for us to see Wall Street’s support for Kaine, or that Castro’s twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro, gets much of his money from drone companies, defense contractors and, tellingly, the New Democratic Coalition. This information can help us understand a lot about a politician.

But Julian Castro’s campaign finance disclosures, while accessible by the City of San Antonio’s website, cannot be sorted by industry and are much less revelatory. The many reports are often more than a hundreds of pages logs and filled information that is insignificant. So we don’t yet know what industries are seeking Castro as an ally in government, or whether he associates with the New Democrats, like his brother. We also don’t know a lot about his positions about national or international issues. Julian Castro’s page at On The Issues, a website that tracks politicians’ positions on major topics, is almost comical in how little it says. Under “budget and economy,” it says: “No issue stance yet recorded by” On crime, drugs or corporations it says “No issue stance yet recorded,” and so on. Such a blank slate can help shield a candidate from attacks — a potentially valuable quality for a Clinton ticket.

Likely Attacks on Castro From the Right and Left

Nonetheless, Castro is not beyond criticism. The right is already accusing him of having a lack of experience. They point out that his highest elected position was as mayor of a city where, according to the San Antonio Express (the largest daily paper in the San Antonio), the city manager has more power. Castro’s salary for being mayor was only $3,000 a year, compared with the city manager, who has been making more than $350,000 and recently got a sizable raise and bonus. Conservatives will no doubt claim that Castro’s role was essentially symbolic, although the Express published an editorial advocating that the mayor’s salary be raised to a livable wage.

Other conservatives will point to a pseudo-scandal called “TwinGate” from 2012, in which Castro allegedly used his twin brother as a stand-in during a parade. According to The Associated Press, “Mayoral hopeful Julian Castro acknowledged Wednesday that his twin brother took his place in a parade this week, waving at onlookers who mistook the stand-in for the candidate.”

But some of the most pointed attacks of Castro will come from the left. In addition to his support for TPP, the aforementioned profile in The New York Times magazine described Castro as lacking a serious leftward ideological bent. “He supports free trade, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, advocates an energy policy that includes fossil fuels, believes in balanced budgets and refers to [Republican appointed] David Souter as his ideal Supreme Court justice,” it said.

The first organized opposition to Castro from progressives concerned discontent with his actions at HUD. In April Politico reported that “a coalition of groups — many of them backers of [Sanders] — are launching a preemptive strike against Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, aimed at disqualifying him from consideration to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate.”

The coalition argued that under Castro, HUD has prioritized banks over people.

“Under Secretary Castro HUD promised to help homeowners avoid foreclosures by selling more overdue mortgage loans to non-profit community organizations,” said the coalition’s website, which to date has 118,000 signatures on a petition supporting its cause. “But in reality HUD’s two most recent sales have sent 98 percent of the mortgages straight to Wall Street — and at a huge discount.”

Indeed, his experience at HUD, while limited, may be a greater source of criticism than his time as mayor. Alex H. Coy IV, an activist from San Antonio, told Truthout that “most of the [local] criticism about Castro comes from his days in the HUD.”

If Clinton doesn’t feel she needs to woo the left, progressives should brace themselves for a ticket that represents the status quo.

Bernie Sanders’ supporters also are upset that Castro not only endorsed Clinton but also went after Sanders with spurious attacks about him supporting the anti-immigrant vigilante group, the Minutemen. Another critique came from The Huffington Post’s Shahien Nasiripour who reported in September that HUD helped “Wall Street criminals dodge accountability,” when Castro made modified policies to let Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase escape punishment for “major crimes committed by the corporate parents.” Originally HUD had a requirement that banks that have been convicted of felonies, such as Citigroup and JPMorgan, could not lend through a HUD program. Secretary Julian Castro’s changed the requirements to get these banks off the hook, the article said.

These kind of issues shows that many of the left see Castro as someone who is, as CNBC describes the sentiment, “cozy with Wall Street rather than someone who is protecting the many Black and Latino homeowners who were affected by the housing crisis.”

A Status Quo Ticket

In choosing a running mate, Clinton and her advisers are factoring in many variables. She needs to consider the donor class, what states are in play, who is vulnerable and why. The reaction of progressives is indeed one of the variables she is considering. But if Clinton doesn’t feel she needs to woo the left — that she will get progressives’ votes regardless, or can win the election without them — progressives should brace themselves for a ticket that represents the status quo. This may be disappointing to many who have worked tirelessly all election to prevent another status quo ticket come November. But it could also be a reminder that the vast majority of social change does not occur on an Election Day once every four years, but by the actions of activists every day in between.