Democrats hear from Senate hopeful

Kai Degner

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County Democrats heard Saturday from the man who may be the state’s next U.S. Senator, depending on the outcome of the presidential election and a decision by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Newport News, may be on the brink of making history as the state’s first black U.S. senator, but first Democrat Hillary Clinton has to win the presidential election. That would produce a vacancy in the Senate as Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate and one of the state’s two senators, moves on to become vice president.

At that point, it would be up to McAuliffe, a Democrat, to choose Kaine’s replacement. McAuliffe is under pressure to also consider other Democrats, but Scott is widely believed to be the front runner for now.

A former member of the House of Delegates and state Senate, Scott, 69, has already made history as the first black from Virginia to serve in Congress since the 1890s and the second in the state’s history. He is highest ranking Democrat on the House Committee for Education and the Workforce, which he joined in his first term in Congress in 1993.

Scott, who spoke to about 70 Democrats at the party’s Kennedy-King dinner, told a questioner from the audience that he was one of the few members of Congress to vote earlier in the week to uphold President’s Obama veto of a bill that will allow the surviving family members of the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001 to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for what some of them believe to be that nation’s role in supporting the terrorists.

Bobby Scott

Scott called the bill an example of legislation that sounds worthy of support until someone digs into its details.

Critics of the legislation say that stripping Saudi Arabian government officials of immunity from lawsuits will leave Americans stationed overseas, including members of the military, vulnerable to the same kinds of lawsuits. Critics have also argued that accusations of involvement by Saudi officials in the terrorism attack are unsubstantiated.

Scott said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have expressed second thoughts about the legislation since the veto override, but Scott said he doubted the bill could be refined. He called for its repeal, but doubted there were enough votes and warned of the unintended consequences likely to arise from its passage.

“That’s what happens when you get mesmerized by the title of a bill,” Scott said.

Scott recited a long list of issues that he has focused on, including the writing of criminal justice reform legislation. Scott, who sponsored the bill with U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., criticized a rival proposal by U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, that passed the House Judiciary Committee but has since been languishing.

While Goodlatte remains optimistic the legislation, a package of 11 bills, will pass the House this year, Scott said he would welcome its demise. Goodlatte’s legislation doesn’t go far enough, and supporters of criminal justice reform would be better off starting over in the next Congress, Scott said.

Scott said Goodlatte’s bill didn’t place enough emphasis on education, early intervention and rehabilitation. Its sentencing provisions, which he called a mix of increased and decreased penalties, fall far short of the straightforward reductions he had wanted, Scott said.

“Hopefully, nothing will get done this year, and we can start all over next year with a deliberative approach, making the decisions and making the choice that need to be made,” Scott said.

Kai Degner, who is running against Goodlatte in the 6th District, spoke about his reasons for entering the race. Degner said he was visiting a family member in Germany, a survivor of that nation’s World War II era, who was alarmed about Donald Trump’s pronouncements on Muslims immigrants and what he considered echoes of the Third Reich.

“How do I make sure Donald Trump doesn’t carry Virginia and have a shot at the White House?” Degner said he asked himself.

Degner said the opportunity to run for Congress seemed to be the answer.

“If I’m doing it, we might as well try and beat Bob Goodlatte along the way,” Degner said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com