Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Webb's Plans for the Senate

Senator-elect Webb was interviewed yesterday for the Daily Press. Here's the story:

New Virginia senator calls Bush a `failed president'
By David Lerman
Newport News (Va.) Daily Press

WASHINGTON - Virginia Sen.-elect Jim Webb said President Bush is a "failed president" who should use his last two years in office to repair America's image abroad by ending the Iraq war through intensive diplomacy.

In an interview Tuesday with the Newport News Daily Press, Virginia's newly elected Democratic senator made clear his antipathy toward Bush and his determination to help set a new course in Iraq.

Webb, an early and outspoken critic of the Iraq war, ousted Republican Sen. George Allen last month by a razor-thin margin that tipped control of the U.S. Senate to Democrats. A decorated Vietnam veteran and former Navy secretary, Webb has a 24-year-old son now serving in Iraq as a Marine.

"He's a failed president," Webb said, when asked what he thinks of Bush. "He has two years to try to show some true leadership when it comes to rehabilitating the image of the United States around the world.

"I warned three months before we went into Iraq that we were squandering an historic opportunity to keep almost the entire world with us in the war against international terrorism. And we have failed utterly to do that. It is now up to us and that hopefully includes the president to try and remediate the situation in a way that will enhance the stability in the Middle East and rehabilitate our relationship with countries around the world."

Webb's coolness toward Bush first surfaced last month, after an icy exchange between the two men at a private White House reception was leaked to the media.

"How's your boy?" Bush asked, referring to Webb's son, Jimmy.

"I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President," Webb replied.

"That's not what I asked you," Bush shot back. "How's your boy?"

"That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Webb said in ending the conversation.

The incident underscored Webb's reputation as a fiercely independent operator who will not easily be constrained by Washington standards of decorum or party orthodoxy. A Democrat-turned-Republican-turned Democrat, Webb served in Ronald Reagan's Pentagon before becoming a best-selling author and then launching his improbable bid for a Senate seat.

Webb confirmed the exchange with Bush Tuesday, but said he was not trying to insult the president and would be willing to work with him next year.

"I have declined to answer personal questions about my son in a political context," Webb said in explaining his response to Bush. "All I was doing was trying to curtail a conversation. I said nothing publicly about it at all until the story was leaked, I think by the White House. I'm happy to go over and have breakfast with President Bush, if he wants to have breakfast."

The White House has declined to discuss the incident, saying it does not comment on private receptions.

Bush critics have cheered Webb's feisty exchange as evidence of his willingness to challenge the president and fight for policy changes. But some conservatives have faulted Webb for an impolitic tone toward the president and questioned his fitness for the clubby Senate, where collegiality and compromise are considered essential.

Webb dismissed the criticism, saying, "I think people who are worried about that are going to be pretty surprised. I have friends on both sides of the aisle. I am looking forward to working with people."

Outlining his priorities for next year, Webb said he would seek a new course for Iraq, more generous education benefits for recent military veterans, and legislation aimed at narrowing the economic disparity between rich and poor.

During the campaign, Webb often spoke about the growing divide between the rich and the poor, a divide he said risks tearing American society apart. He said Tuesday he hopes to begin addressing the problem through measures such as increasing the minimum wage and examining the fairness of corporate tax breaks.

He is also drafting a bill that would offer full college tuition and benefits to qualified military veterans who have served on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001.

"I'm really hopeful we can move that bill this year," he said of the initiative, which he pushed throughout his campaign.

But it is on Iraq that Webb will undoubtedly spend most of his time as a freshman member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees. The newly appointed Democratic chairmen of those panels have already called for extensive Iraq hearings beginning next month.

"I want to hear the administration and the military leadership articulate the endpoint in their strategy," Webb said. "How do we know when we are done?"

While urging diplomacy and a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops, Webb has declined to endorse a timeline for withdrawal.

Asked about proposals for a short-term surge in troop levels, Webb said, "I'm willing to hear them out. I don't see a clear reason for it. I want to see what they're talking about." Webb calls Bush a "failed president"

Looks like Senator-elect Webb will hit the ground running and is taking his new responsibilities seriously. On Saturday I went to the party at Aldo's Italian Restaurant for Webb volunteers and the other Democratic candidates. Jim Webb showed up early before the speeches and spent considerable time talking to every single person who approached him. After all the speaking was done and most people had cleared out, he remained and continued to shake hands and meet with everyone. I don't believe a single person was turned away of the dozens who approached. During his speech he made it clear that he appreciates the efforts made on his behalf and reiterated his promise to campaign strongly for all Democratic candidates in the upcoming General Assembly elections.

It's clear from the President's press conference today that he will reject any real attempt at diplomacy and is preparing to order a "surge" into Iraq of troops for "one last push" to stabilize the situation. Historically speaking last pushes, last stands, and last surges have a dismal record. Those who advocate this surge cannot articulate what exactly such a surge will accomplish and how, but it's as if they feel the need to "do something."

When asked about talks with Iran, Bush replied that he would only agree to it if Iran would cease its nuclear enrichment program. Why Iran would agree to do so when there is absolutely no incentive on the table is beyond me, but that's what he said.

Senator-elect Webb and company will have their work cut out for them when they start work next week.

Attempted cross-posting at VA-Sen Progressive Wave

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