Senators Kaine and Warner Talk Virginia Business, Amazon HQ at Mason’s Arlington Campus

Virginia’s two senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (both Ds), discussed fiscal issues, trade policies, security clearances, energy, Amazon’s arrival, and other topics important to the Commonwealth in an hour-long discussion hosted by the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University on Thursday morning.

The conversation, called “The Virginia Senatorial Roundtable,” was sponsored by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce. About 80 elected officials, business leaders, and curious community members attended the breakfast discussion at Mason’s auditorium in Arlington, Va.

Following welcoming remarks by Schar School Distinguished Visiting Professor Richard Kauzlarich, moderator Julie Carey, Northern Virginia bureau chief for NBC4, asked the senators about the impending partial government shutdown President Trump promised if Congress didn’t authorize $5 billion for a border wall with Mexico.

“I’ve been wrong before, but I don’t think we’ll have a shutdown,” said Kaine, to an audience of business leaders who likely are still smarting from the last bout of dried up government spending.

“I’m still waiting for the check from Mexico,” Warner joked, referring to the president’s campaign promise to have Mexico pay for the wall.

The country’s public infrastructure, eroding after years of fiscal neglect, is so bad that Warner went as far as to say nearby Memorial Bridge, currently undergoing significant-if-late repairs, was dangerously unsafe.

How bad is it?

“I might not be allowed to say this, but did you know the presidential motorcade and limousine buses cannot go across Memorial Bridge?” he asked, adding that additional investments in the nation’s infrastructure repairs should come from federal funds.

As for the imminent arrival of Amazon’s second headquarters partially located in nearby Crystal City in Arlington, Kaine said it was an affirmation that Virginia “has the best workforce in the country…We are a talent magnet. The key will be having a net talent expansion.”

“This is going to be a game-changer,” Warner added, citing numbers that indicated Arlington County was losing millennial population while carrying a 20 percent vacancy rate for corporate office space. “That’s a level of vulnerability I’m not sure the business community understood,” he said, adding that a regional housing authority needs to be appointed to assure there is affordable housing and that some of the subcontractors on the Amazon account are from elsewhere in the state.

“We need to show it’s a benefit for the whole Commonwealth and the DMV,” he said.

Warner said he will be happy if and when Arlington’s Crystal City, home of the new Amazon headquarters, changes to something, but the proposed “National Landing” did not appeal to him.

“How about ‘Warner Plaza’?” Kaine joked without missing a beat.