U.S. Sen. Kaine Argues for Robust Diplomacy Budget in Remarks at UVA

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine congratulated this year’s Mandela Washington Fellows and encouraged them to become politically involved in their communities. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia expressed concern about President Trump’s proposed foreign affairs budget Monday at the University of Virginia, even as he welcomed a group of Africans newly arrived to take part in former President Obama’s signature Africa initiative – a program that could be in jeopardy if those reductions materialize.

“We are in a battle right now in the budget committee where the development, [the U.S. Agency for International Development], the diplomacy budget is proposed to be cut by a third,” Kaine said.

“Bluntly, I had a meeting with the secretary of state and he told me we can’t spend it,” the Democratic senator said at an opening luncheon in the Rotunda’s Dome Room.

“I thought, ‘Wow, I know how much China is spending around the globe to try to influence other countries.’ If you told me we are not spending it in the right way and we can spend it a lot better, well, I’m all ears. Let’s talk about that,” Kaine said. “But to say the U.S. can’t do what we need to do, we should spend a third less because we are too globally engaged, we should be less globally engaged, I find that a very troubling notion.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent defense of the proposed budget cuts was met with widespread criticism from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Deliberations continue.

In his remarks, Kaine also highlighted the importance of civic leadership and the value of the Mandela Washington Fellowship in forming international exchanges and promoting civic service.

UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan; James Murray, the founder of the Presidential Precinct and vice rector of the University; and Ben Rhodes, the chief international adviser to former President Obama, also offered welcoming remarks.

The Dome Room audience included 25 of Africa’s brightest young leaders – the fourth such group hosted for an annual civic leadership institute by the Presidential Precinct consortium, of which UVA is a member. The others are the College of William & Mary, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, James Madison’s Montpelier, James Monroe’s Highland and UVA’s Morven. The latter property was purchased by Jefferson on behalf of William Short, America’s first career diplomat, and serves as a prime example of early American sustainable agriculture.

In total, there are 1,000 Mandela Washington fellows fanned out across the United States this year, selected from among 60,000 applicants.

Rebecca Ojedele, from Lagos, Nigeria, works in communications at a nongovernmental organization. “I am a social and behavioral change communications specialist,” she said after Kaine spoke. “In simple terms, what that means is we develop messages for health and social issues. We look for the most creative and effective ways to communicate to the people who need the information the most.”

Ojedele said she learned about the Mandela Washington Fellowship from alumni of the program. “They were not the same people that they were when they came back from this program,” she said.

She thought she had a 50-50 chance of getting one of the coveted spots in the program. What was her reaction on hearing that she was accepted?

“I was excited. It’s a huge opportunity,” she said. “I don’t want to disappoint. I want to go there and learn as much as I can and come back and continue what I am doing, but better and more focused and more impactful.”

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Jane Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications