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Kaine looks to become a master of the U.S. Senate

It is quiet now and a time of reflection for Sen. Tim Kaine.

Less than two months after a bruising presidential campaign in which Kaine visited more than 40 states as Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, he is at peace and looking forward.

The disappointment of the loss of the presidency to Republican Donald Trump is behind Kaine. He is looking ahead to a January return to the 115th Congress.

“Things happen for a reason,’’ Kaine said during a recent interview with The News Virginian. He is four years into his term as one of Virginia’s U.S. senators, and he plans to focus on that job. Kaine will not seek the presidency in 2020.

Kaine has carved out an impressive national security and defense niche as a member of both the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees.

Now he is adding to his Senate focus with a new assignment on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. That change will happen when the new Congress starts.

Part of Kaine’s emphasis during his Senate term has been on education, including meeting with vocational educators and business leaders in the Shenandoah Valley about workforce certification.

But there are plenty of national security concerns for Kaine as the calendar turns to 2017.

He is grappling with the issues of non-state terrorism, the cyber attack of the Democratic National Committee by Russia, and the entire threat of cyber to the United States.

Of the latter, Kaine thinks the United States needs a doctrine regarding cyber. He is concerned that the threat of a cyber attack could cripple U.S. power grids, the American financial system and other matters affecting national security.

“When is a cyber attack an act of war?’’ Kaine asked. He said having a doctrine would help determine how the United States responds to a cyber attack.

Kaine has a mixed reaction on President-elect Trump’s picks for cabinet positions.

He is impressed with retired Marine Gen. John Kelly as the potential head of Homeland Security. Kaine said Kelly, who headed Southern Command for the U.S. Military, is “tough, smart and compassionate.”

The senator also thinks Marine Gen. James Mattis can “be a very good secretary of defense.” Kaine said Elaine Chao would be a strong secretary of transportation. The wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Chao was previously secretary of labor.

Kaine does not feel similarly about Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state nominee who has been ExxonMobil CEO. “I have deep concerns,’’ he said. “He has deep personal ties to Russia.” ExxonMobil has also funded climate science denial, Kaine said.

Kaine does not support Scott Pruett, the Oklahoma attorney general and Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruett has also been an opponent of climate science.

Another nominee that Kaine has reservations about is Health and Human Services secretary nominee, Rep. Tom Price of Georgia.

“He wants to change Medicaid and Medicare and is anti-Planned Parenthood,’’ Kaine said of Price, a physician before he was elected to Congress.

As for Trump, Kaine retains hope that the president-elect “will can it with the name calling.” Kaine would like to partner with the new chief executive on an infrastructure plan for the country.

“I’d love to work on an infrastructure package,’’ said Kaine, who has a multitude of questions about how the plan would work. Those questions range from how the project would be financed, to what improvements would be picked across America.

Kaine worries that Trump, who has borrowed heavily to finance his business empire, may not focus enough on how to pay for an infrastructure project.

Kaine counts former Virginia Sen. John Warner as a role model for his work in the Senate.

“He cared about committee leadership,’’ said Kaine. As a member of Senate Foreign Relations, Kaine brings strong expertise of the Americas and the Middle East. His next goal is work on becoming more knowledgeable about the Far East. That would mean serving on the Asia-Pacific Subcommittee and focusing on Vietnam, China and Japan.

“That is a huge and important part of the world,’’ Kaine said.