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In the spotlight as FAA fight heats up: Sen. Mark Warner

Virginia Democrat is ready to stand his ground on slot and perimeter issues at DCA

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., speaks to airline pilots before a news conference at Reagan National Airport on July 10.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., speaks to airline pilots before a news conference at Reagan National Airport on July 10. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Mark Warner joined fellow Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine and Democratic senators from Maryland in announcing they would oppose the chamber’s Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill if it adds long-distance flight slots to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. 

Lawmakers from both parties have proposed expanding additional slots and perimeter exemptions at Reagan National to the five-year reauthorization measure, but Maryland and Virginia’s senators argue the airport is already at capacity. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved its version of the FAA bill in June, and floor action is expected as soon as this week. The Senate has yet to hold its markup.

Getting to Congress

Warner gained a toehold in the political world while still a college student at George Washington University. During school, he worked for Sen. Abraham Ribicoff, a Connecticut Democrat. Later he briefly worked for Ribicoff’s Democratic successor, Christopher J. Dodd, and as a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee.

Warner started ventures in energy and real estate, and then hit it big as an early investor in telecommunications company Nextel. He stayed active in Democratic politics and was Virginia state party chairman from 1993 to 1995. Warner first ran for the Senate in 1996, spending $10 million of his fortune in an unsuccessful bid to unseat GOP Sen. John W. Warner (no relation). But a close loss helped lay the groundwork for his successful 2001 election as governor.

Warner considered a run for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination but decided instead to run again for the Senate. He easily defeated another ex-governor, Republican Jim Gilmore, to clinch the Senate seat.

His state

Virginia is a hub for national security operations and home to more than two dozen military bases, elevating the defense industry’s influence as a heavy hitter among the state’s policy priorities. Northern Virginia is home to the Pentagon, CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Virginia had long been a Republican stronghold for presidential candidates, bolstered by predominantly white and conservative voters. But Northern Virginia’s ongoing population growth has helped give Democrats a political edge. In 2008, Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state in four decades. Since then, the party has flipped several GOP-controlled congressional seats in Northern Virginia and expanded its reach into exurban communities like Spotsylvania County.

What’s new 

Warner, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the panel is “closely monitoring” an alleged cybersecurity breach after Chinese hackers broke into email networks of 25 organizations, including an unspecified number of government agencies, according to Microsoft, whose products were targeted.

Tuna throwback

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Warner published a video tutorial preparing a tuna melt sandwich by slathering thick globs of mayonnaise across two pieces of white bread soaked in can-juice. The video went viral and prompted wry observations from colleagues about the sandwich-to-mayo proportion and his intentional step of not draining the tuna can. “Mark, we need to talk,” tweeted then-California Sen. Kamala Harris. “Call. Please.”