U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., is vowing to defund portions of the Department of Defense budget if necessary to prevent President Trump from using military troops to police people taking part in nationwide protests against police brutality.
Kaine, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a media conference call on Tuesday that language against the use of troops as police could be inserted into the annual National Defense Authorization Act, a bill that funds the DOD. He said the bill is expected to be taken up next week.
“We could essentially defund activities like that and if you do, they don’t happen,” Kaine said. “I’m not going to stand for it. And I hope my other colleagues on the Armed Services Committee will speak out loud and clear that this is not what the United States military is for.”
Kaine, whose son is in the Marines, said he proudly supports the military, but was appalled by military troops on Monday firing flash bang grenades and teargas at lawfully assembled and peaceful protesters outside the White House. The action was taken to allow Trump to walk from the White House across Lafayette Square for a photo opportunity at the nearby St. John’s Church, which had briefly been set on fire by demonstrators on Sunday night.
The Posse Comitatus Act, an 1878 Reconstruction-era law written to keep federal troops from policing elections in former Confederate states, generally forbids the military from acting as a domestic police force. However, Trump has threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807, a law signed by then-President Thomas Jefferson allowing federal troops to quell a rebellion. The law was last used in 1992 in response to riots in Los Angeles after four L.A.P.D. officers who beat driver Rodney King were acquitted by a jury.
Trump said on Monday that his administration is committed to getting justice for the family of George Floyd, the black man who died on May 25 after video showed white Minneapolis police officer Derek Michael Chauvin kneeling on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Chauvin was quickly fired and charged with third-degree murder, but frustration over Floyd’s death and numerous incidents of police brutality caught on video in recent years has fueled continued protests.
While saying he supported peaceful protesters, Trump said more force was needed to stop the violent ones.
“We cannot allow the righteous cries of peaceful protesters to be drowned out by an angry mob,” Trump said. “If a city or a state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”
But Kaine said Americans of all political persuasions should be “horrified” by what he said was the president using the military as his “palace guard” against peaceful protesters.
“We have a president who views peaceful protest as a threat and who’s willing to use federal law enforcement and now, apparently, the military. The federal military, he wants to turn them against Americans in an unprecedented way,” he said. “It’s just absolutely shocking.”
Before the call, Kaine held an online meeting with members of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition. Among the topics was the need for local and state governments to be able to spend federal coronavirus bailout money on budget shortfalls.
The money comes from the the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act that passed in March. Republicans hold the majority in the Senate and Kaine said they insisted the money only be used for COVID-19 expenses, not the huge budget shortfalls from the economic crash caused by the pandemic.
Frederick County received $7.8 million and Winchester received $2.5 million. But the money can only go for expenses like paying for personal protective equipment for employees or installing plexiglass at municipal offices to prevent the spread of the virus. COVID-19 had killed nearly 106,000 Americans including 1,407 Virginians through Tuesday morning.
Kaine said Democrats are negotiating with Republicans to allow for the money to be retroactively spent on shortfalls to prevent layoffs of local and state government workers. And he’s hopeful that the Heroes Act — a $3 trillion relief bill that passed in the Democratic-majority House of Representatives on May 15, but is stalled in the Senate — will include bailout money for local governments. He said some Republican senators don’t want to see their constituents laid off. Layoffs would include emergency responders and health care workers.
“If you do not allow for the backstopping of lost revenue, you’re going to be laying off precisely the wrong people to layoff during a pandemic,” Kaine said. “I believe we’re going to get to a bill during this month that will work out with the White House and the House that will have additional money for state and local governments.”
Coalition members said overdoses have spiked during the pandemic. They said the primary reasons were the Great Depression-like unemployment, a lack of housing and the inability to hold in-person Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. They also said $1,200 stimulus checks were sometimes spent on drugs.
Kaine said while the checks were needed, future money should be more specifically targeted, such as for food or rental assistance or money for businesses that have lost 50% of their revenue. Kaine said he and his wife were infected with mild cases of COVID-19 in April and he was grateful for the resources they had to help them recuperate.
He said he understands that many Americans lack those resources, particularly black and Latino people who have had a disproportionate percentage of infections and job loses. He said the Floyd death has added to their pain.
“What we need are leaders in the country who are willing to listen and are willing to empathize and after listening and empathizing, taking real steps to bring us together and find solutions,” Kaine said. “Sadly, what we’re seeing from the White House is somebody who is not interested in unifying anybody, but is trying to divide us.”