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Virginia Begins to Reopen, a Potential Virtual Session, and Trump Vetoes Kaine's War Bill: Political Analysis for Friday, May 8, 2020

A cartoon image of Craig Carper and Jeff Schapiro with a microphone between them.

Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM News Director Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include a partial reopening of Virginia, the possibility of the General Assembly meeting virtually for any upcoming special sessions, and President Trump vetoes Senator Tim Kaine's resolution that would change how the US goes to war.

Craig Carper: From VPM news in Richmond, I'm Craig Carper. Joining me now from the Richmond Times-Dispatch is political columnist and VPM’s political analyst, Jeff Schapiro. Jeff, good morning.

Jeff Schapiro: Hi there, Craig.

Carper: Jeff, Governor Ralph Northam is edging the state toward a partial rollback of coronavirus restrictions, with businesses expected to reopen next Friday.

Schapiro: And sometimes when the governor talks about reopening the Virginia economy, it's not clear whether he's talking to patients as a health care professional, he's a doctor, or voters. And I think we'd all agree that some of the messaging, though clearly of the best of intentions and earnest on the part of the governor, is a little muddled. And in this expiration on Friday the 15th, this move towards the first phase of the rollback, we will see barber shops and manicurists reopening, recreational businesses as they are called. But we'll also see these limits on gatherings of people maintained at the 10-person limit. The governor has talked about a phased reopening, largely to not only prevent any overtopping of the hospitals, and we've seen some success there, but of course, to minimize the ferocity of a second wave, which of course has been anticipated. The governor has been talking to the mayor of the District of Columbia and the governor of Maryland about certain problems specific to Northern Virginia and the Washington Metro area, though what the governor has announced this week doesn't qualify as a part of a regional approach. What has also been going on is that we're seeing more and more criticism of the governor, not just from Republicans, but occasionally from fellow Democrats. Among the concerns expressed by Democrats, George Barker, a state senator making this point, that there has to be greater transparency in terms of identifying these hot spots, largely in nursing homes and senior facilities. The public needs to know, and certainly the families and the residents need to know, what's going on and where this is going on. As for the Republicans, Amanda Chase, the state senator from Chesterfield County, who we know is very good at getting attention, whether it's tangling with Capitol Police officers or wearing hand guns in public, and funnily enough getting on Fox, because, I guess, because she's running for governor, this is all helpful. She organized this “ReOpen Virginia Protest” the other day with honking cars circling Capitol Square. On a more substantive note, Todd Gilbert, the Republican Minority Leader of the House, has been grousing for weeks about the dearth of COVID tests, and now that's of particular concern in his district, which includes little Page County up in the Shenandoah Valley. It is now number three in infections, and I think we talked about this a bit last week. At the time, Page County had 89 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, of which 59 had been identified as taking place in a single nursing home.

Carper: Also this week, Governor Northam, Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn, and Attorney General Mark Herring nudged the state legislature a bit closer toward meeting remotely.

Schapiro: The governor included in his amendments to the budget, these amendments that were taken up by the legislature during the spring session, language that would allow the legislature to meet virtually during emergencies, such as the COVID pandemic. There had been some discussion about this before the session, even during the session. The attorney general has said that this language provides the legislature with the cover it needs to meet either by telephone, closed-circuit television, or online. Remember, the Freedom of Information Act prohibited the legislature from doing this. This is clearly a first step towards a larger revision of the Freedom of Information Act, something that a lot of us have been anticipating since early March, when it was clear that the legislature was going to have a problem with its spring session, and particularly with this lockdown and the restrictions that had been put in place. The transparency in government people are going to be concerned about this and expect them to speak up about it. But I think it's pretty clear that we're going to be seeing some tweaks to the Open Meetings law to allow not just the legislature, but any number of government boards and panels to meet virtually.

Carper: And finally, Senator Tim Kaine's legislation changing the rules for the U.S. going to war was predictably vetoed by President Donald Trump.

Schapiro: Yes, I guess so much for “endless wars,” as Donald Trump would put it. This veto was not unexpected. This legislation, actually a congressional resolution, would require congressional approval of any military action by the U.S. that's clearly offensive. This was introduced by Kaine after the president ordered that strike to kill the head of Iran’s terror arm. The president in his veto message, and this is I guess quite “Trumpian,” described the Kaine measure as, the President words “very insulting,” and that it was only intended in an election year, a presidential and congressional election year, to spotlight divisions within the Republican Party. This is an issue interestingly enough in which Virginia senators have been involved since the 1970’s, starting with Bill Spong, a one-term senator, a Democratic senator from Virginia, who helped write the War Powers Act of 1973, under which Kaine has been pressing for greater congressional action on these, if you will, endless wars carried out by executive fiat since he was first elected to the Senate in 2012.

Carper: Alright, thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week.

Schapiro: Stay safe.