One of the first times Mark Warner commuted to the Senate, he wore a green polyester suit.
He had to wring it out after riding his bike from George Washington University. On the upside, it had pretty spacious pockets — large enough for some shrimp.
Now, the Democratic senator, 63, wishes bills could be a little less like that.
Q: What has changed for the worse in the Senate since you arrived?
A: The fact that there are very few small bills, or medium-sized bills, anymore. My sense was, back when I worked here as a kid, there were occasional big partisan battles over a big bill, but most of the bills might be regional alliances — it didn’t break down Democrat, Republican. Now, since we pass so few, it feels like anytime a bill’s going to pass it becomes much more important. It’s like we’re saying this train’s leaving the station, so people try to glom on other stuff as opposed to there are weeks and weeks we go where we don’t even vote on bills or amendments. Both sides are guilty.
Q: You worked for Sen. Abraham Ribicoff while in college.
A: I was a staffer during college back when I owned two suits. I had this awful green polyester suit. I’d ride my bike from GW up here in my suit, and I’d have to wring it out.
The receptions used to have a lot better food because they didn’t have all these rules. Since I was in college, I would sometimes put plastic bags in all my pockets and take food and take it back to the dorm and share it with people. Getting fresh shrimp and crab rolls, that was high eating for a college kid. Taiwan always used to have a reception. … They had really good food. I filled up all my pockets, and as you were coming out, there were a series of diplomats and Taiwanese generals there. They were quite a bit shorter than me, and I was dreadfully afraid that if I bowed over, food would come out of my pockets. I thought it would be some international incident. Luckily I escaped without food coming out.
Q: Do you remember anything about your GW valedictorian speech?
A: Walter Mondale was in the crowd because his brother was getting an award and his brother was a teacher at GW. At that point, Mondale was only a senator. I made fun of the big freshman dorm that I lived in, which was the only line I got a laugh.
When I first started giving graduation speeches as a governor and a senator, I’ll always quoted the [Winston] Churchill comment: “Be concise. And be seated.” I try to make the point that I know for most of the students it’s not going to be the speeches they remember.
Q: If you could have any other job, what would it be?
A: This is more before the company split, [but] a buddy of mine was the president of National Geographic when it still had both the whole nonprofit side and the whole for-profit side. So it’s a broadcasting company and it’s a media company, but it’s also got this great heritage.
Q: Where is your favorite place you’ve ever visited?
A: I’m way too much, sometimes, a glass half empty. I feel like Tim Kaine, who’s always totally optimistic and positive, we’re the yin and yang. But probably the coolest thing was in 1990, I went on … a political trip to Zambia. I went white water rafting over Victoria Falls, classified rapids. It scared the hell out of me, but it was just really cool.
You do four hours. You carry this raft up, and they give you a beer, and you’ve got the whole African veld out in front of you. I was drinking this beer and I thought, “This feels straight out of a beer commercial.”
Last book read: “The Perfect Weapon” by David Sanger and “Crazy Rich Asians” by Kevin Kwan.
Pet peeve: When people try to b.s. me with bad numbers. When I was a governor … there were these two senior officials from the Department of Transportation. … It was this one project and they gave me the numbers. I’m a pretty hardcore numbers guy, and I’m looking at this and they didn’t make sense. And I go, “What is this? These percentages don’t add up.” And they were like, “Governor, we thought those were the numbers you wanted” because the previous governor had been kind of shaky about this stuff. I made very clear I never wanted to see those guys again.
Cats or dogs: Dogs. No question.
If you could have dinner with one person, living or dead: Mahatma Gandhi.
Closest friend across the aisle: Sen. Bob Corker, Mike Crapo, Richard Burr. I like to say I work at the only place in America where being part of a gang is a good thing. Anytime there’s a bipartisan gang up here, I’m part of it.