STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We've been through another breathtaking 24 hours of news. Yesterday started with a shooting at a Republican congressional baseball practice. It ended with a report by The Washington Post that President Trump faces investigation by a special counsel for possible obstruction of justice. Along the way, Senate Republicans have been trying to focus on health care legislation. Let's talk all this through with Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia.
Senator, good morning.
TIM KAINE: Good to be with you, Steve. Thanks.
INSKEEP: So a lot of information is out there publicly about what the president did and didn't do about the investigation into Russian interference. Do you see obstruction of justice?
KAINE: Well, that is a question for the special prosecutor. And I am extremely glad he's on the case. That gives me comfort that we will get to the bottom of this. But the key issue is he fired the FBI director who was in the middle of investigating folks connected to the White House and then told both CBS News and Russian diplomats that the reason for the firing was the Russia investigation and that the pressure of the Russian investigation would now be off. So once the firing happened and the president essentially acknowledged that it was because of the Russia investigation, I was completely unsurprised to hear that the special prosecutor is looking at that...
INSKEEP: Is it...
KAINE: ...And asking whether it's obstruction.
INSKEEP: Is it fair that we're told about this because, as you know, the president's lawyer has denounced this - what's described as a leak?
KAINE: Whether it's fair or not, I'm sure that the fact that this has come out was in response to stories that the president was thinking about firing the special prosecutor. You know, that was a shocker. When President Nixon fired the special prosecutor Archibald Cox during the Watergate investigation, it basically set the path in stone toward the end of his presidency in disgrace. That was viewed by all as an admission of guilt. And so when the word was coming out from close associates with the president that he was thinking about firing the special prosecutor, that was probably a bridge too far for some. And they revealed what frankly should not be surprising to anybody - that that is one of the items they're looking at.
INSKEEP: Oh - which essentially makes it much harder for the president to get away with firing the special prosecutor, should he ever decide to do that.
KAINE: I would think that would be very, very difficult. And it would be viewed by the public accurately as fear of what the investigation was going to uncover.
INSKEEP: Senator, what did yesterday's shooting outside of Washington, D.C., involving Republican members of Congress say, if anything, about our political environment right now?
KAINE: It was very shocking, Steve. I was in the Wednesday morning weekly Senate bipartisan prayer breakfast, which is a tradition that goes back to the 1950s, where senators of both parties - and former senators - gather every Wednesday morning. When we were - we'd just heard the news before we walked in around 8 o'clock and prayed for our colleagues. We had senators that we like very much who were there. Rand Paul was there; Jeff Flake was there. And we were very worried. When something like that happens, immediately, what everybody up here thinks is, my family at home will hear there's been a shooting of members of Congress...
KAINE: ...And they will worry that it's me. And so...
INSKEEP: Better call home.
KAINE: ...Everybody was calling their families. And so it was a very, very difficult morning. And I do think, you know, it raises the need for all of us to elevate the quality of our interactions with each other. We shouldn't be demeaning each other personally. We shouldn't be demeaning the institutions of government or tearing down the institutions of government.
I had an interview with a secretary of the Treasury the other day, and I asked him a question about whether there could ever be a good shutdown of the government. And he didn't stand up and say shutting the government of the United States down is always a bad thing. I think we've got to elevate what we say about each other and about our institutions. And a day like that or an incident like that probably forces us all to look in the mirror, and that's not a bad thing.
INSKEEP: Congressman Dave Schweikert was on the program earlier, Republican of Arizona, and he described a particularly toxic political environment that he felt was aimed at Republicans right now. Are things getting a little extreme as people oppose President Trump?
KAINE: I don't - I think that's unfair. I think it's a - you know, we certainly see - I mean, we certainly see a whole lot of just incredible, incredible animosity aimed at Democrats. I'm thinking about the - you know, the Infowars story a few months ago that led somebody to walk into a pizza parlor in D.C. and shoot it up.
So there's a lot of very extreme rhetoric out there. And for somebody to try to make a partisan point and say, you know, one side is to blame, or the other side is to blame - that is itself a move that's about division and sometimes even inspiring anger. We should be above that.
INSKEEP: Very briefly...
KAINE: But I - but we're going to - you know, we'll get more facts on the shooting. But I do think this sort of toxic stew of sharp rhetoric and emotions, easy access to guns, mental health issues - that they tend to combine, and they probably all play a part in something like this. And all of those are things that we should be looking at.
INSKEEP: Very briefly, Senator - I know that Senate Republicans are moving closer to voting on health care legislation that's being designed in secret, so to speak. Can you stop it, though?
KAINE: We're going to do everything we can because anything designed in secret without hearing from patients, doctors, (inaudible) and without allowing Democrats to at least make proposed amendments is destined to be bad for the American public. We should be having an open process. And I introduced a bill yesterday with a number of Democrats to try to stabilize the individual insurance market using a tool that is a bipartisan tool, reinsurance that we currently do under Medicare Part D with the support of both parties. And that helps hold Medicare Part D costs down. I'm proposing a similar mechanism to hold health care costs down in the individual market.
There are solutions that are bipartisan, but we're waiting for the Republicans to open the door to allow both the public and Democrats to participate in crafting those solutions.
INSKEEP: Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat - thanks very much. Really appreciate it.
KAINE: Hey - so good to be with you. Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: And NPR political editor editor Domenico Montanaro has been listening in to all of that. And Domenico, what strikes you about what the senator said?
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, I mean, both sides have, you know, engaged in rhetoric and hyperbole during these campaigns that really is out of control. You know, you see it in your social media feeds. It - regardless of who you are, if you're public-facing at all, you get some of this targeted at you. And everyone has sort of retreated to their corners and winds up pointing the finger at somebody else. You know, you hear Tim Kaine say that it's unfair to say that Democrats are being unfair to President Trump and that there are a lot of Republicans who are being unfair toward Democrats. It's incumbent on both sides to be able to elevate the rhetoric. I'm not sure that it's going to happen because partisanship has divided so - has gotten so much further apart over the last few years.
INSKEEP: Divided people's perceptions of what the facts are that they even argue about. Domenico, thanks very much.
MONTANARO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.