Sen. Webb Challenges Obama On Key Initiatives At Critical Juncture For Democrats


Sen. Jim Webb is no stranger to butting heads with presidents, but his recent direct challenges to President Obama’s agenda have been raising eyebrows and his national profile.

Polls had been closed in Massachusetts for less than two hours when Webb (D-VA) issued a statement putting the brakes on health care reform. He’d voted for the Senate bill, but that was after weeks of pressuring Senate leaders to be more transparent about the process and wavering on whether he’d actually vote to break a Republican filibuster.

Webb’s latest critique is of the Obama administration’s decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City, and he hasn’t been shy about calling for something different.

Webb told reporters yesterday that “The people who really want to solve the problems in this country are going to start working across the aisle to get things done.”

He cited his fight to pass a GI Bill of Rights and said he’s proudest of “what I like to call my own management model, a leadership model” of working with others.“I think we can set the example up here, and take up these contentious issues and actually bring people together, we can do good things for the country,” he said.

Webb hit that point in a pre-response to Obama’s State of the Union address:

The overriding objective of the President and the Congress over the next year must be to offer the kind of leadership that regains the confidence of the American people in our system, in our deliberative process, and above all in our leaders. With that in mind, my colleagues on both sides of the aisle should work ever harder to approach the issues that face us with less partisan maneuvering and a more genuine commitment to resolving the truly daunting challenges that now face working Americans.

Webb complimented the Obama address in his conference call.

His election in 2006 is the entire reason Democrats won back the United States Senate, and he demanded prestigious committee posts from Democratic leadership in part because of his surprise win.

Democrats tapped Webb to deliver their rebuttal to then-President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address, which focused on national security. He also sparred with Bush over his son Jimmy Webb, who served in Iraq.

The Republican-turned-Democrat already is raising money for his reelection fight, and recently redesigned his campaign Web site. (George Allen, the Republican he unseated, polls well in a potential rematch.)

He told reporters yesterday he believes it is not “proper” to try suspected 9/11 terrorists in American courts or house them in American prisons.

As I reported two years ago, Webb’s friends told me privately on the campaign trail in fall 2006 that he had expressed interest in the presidency.

He was eyed briefly for the vice presidential ticket, but said early in the process he wasn’t interested.

Webb has long decried “gotcha” politics, and rarely gives interviews, though TPMDC tried to score one for this piece.

“To the American voters, I would offer this small piece of advice: Be just as shrewd and ruthless in your demands on our leaders as the political wizards who are running these campaigns are in their strategies designed to get your vote,” Webb wrote in his 2008 book, “A Time to Fight: Reclaiming a Fair and Just America.”

“You won’t regret it. You will benefit from it,” he wrote.

At the time he called the book “a series of think pieces” that helped him delve deeper into the problems facing the nation.

“I was trying to get beyond just the sound bites in which we pretty much have to live up here,” he said.

Late Update: Webb spokeswoman Jessica Smith stressed to TPMDC that her boss has a good working relationship with Obama. She also provided this statement:

Sen. Webb is very deliberative about the positions he takes and votes he casts. It’s true that these positions don’t always align with the party agenda; but to know Senator Webb is to know that he’s independent-minded and votes his conscience. And, I think most Americans would argue that that’s what good governing is about.

He is solely focused on the job he was elected to do in the Senate.

Additional reporting by Eric Kleefeld.