Plenty on Senate Intel Chair Mark Warner’s breakfast plate

Between security concerns around China – including the TikTok app, which is owned by a Chinese company – and the failure of Silicon Valley Bank, Mark Warner is one busy senator. The Virginia Democrat is chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a member of the Senate Banking Committee, and has been in the news lately. A lot.

Thus, the timing of our Monitor Breakfast last Monday couldn’t have been better. But after the greetings and introduction, what was top of mind for Senator Warner? Adam Sandler’s appearance the night before at the Kennedy Center as winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

When the show airs Sunday night on CNN, “they’re gonna have to bleep out every third word,” Mr. Warner said to reporters’ laughter. 

Then he got down to business. First the senator noted that it was the 20th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and ruminated aloud on the long-term consequences.

“We took our eyes off the ball a bit in terms of great-power competition,” Mr. Warner said. The story that will dominate for months and potentially years, he added, is “our competition with Russia and China – China in particular.”

The senior senator from Virginia, a self-described “tech nerd,” knows whereof he speaks. Before going into politics, he made his fortune as an entrepreneur in the early days of cellular technology. Then, as governor of Virginia in the early 2000s, he traveled to China, hopeful that business deals and academic collaboration would bring the most populous nation on Earth into the larger international order. 

Now, as a longtime member of Senate Intelligence – and since 2021, committee chair – Mr. Warner is more sober-minded. As I report in my article about the breakfast, he believes he was wrong about Mr. Xi, and that after years of intellectual property theft and exploitative joint ventures, the nature of U.S. national security threats has changed profoundly. Cyber privacy is also a major concern. The CEO of TikTok faced a barrage of criticism in Congress Thursday, as reported by my colleague Christa Case Bryant.

The audio of our Warner breakfast can be found on the Monitor’s YouTube channel.

As the hour drew to a close, the senator warned that if Mr. Xi decides to sell arms to Russian President Vladimir Putin for his war in Ukraine, that “could be the most significant thing to happen in years.”

But Mr. Warner also sought to end on a positive note. He suggested that new technology – such as next-generation wireless – offers “enormous hope for mankind around the world,” with monitoring by the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee as it seeks to keep Americans safe.

He also circled back to the Mark Twain gala, and remarked that “Dana Carvey and Chris Rock were both really funny.” One might think a Senate committee chair engrossed by big, serious issues has no time for fun. But we all need to kick back sometimes.