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Jim Webb, A One-Term Senator By Choice

LIANE HANSEN, host:

As Ron mentioned, Virginia Democrat Jim Webb is among those who are leaving. Senator Webb is often cited for his military experience as a former combat Marine in Vietnam, and a Navy secretary in the Reagan administration.

We reached him in his office on Capitol Hill. Welcome to the program.

Senator JIM WEBB (Democrat, Virginia): Well, nice to be with you.

HANSEN: Looking back to 2006, you were elected by a narrow margin - about 9,000 votes. Why are you stepping down after serving only one term?

Sen. WEBB: Well, first of all, we were elected by a narrow margin. But we started 33 points behind, against someone who had $14 million. So I think our journey there was pretty significant. And I've enjoyed my time in the Senate. Anybody who has a sense of history can't help but feel a special pang when you think about leaving the Senate. But at the same time, I've spent more than half of my professional life outside of government. And I think it's healthy for people to take a step back from time to time, and just kind of regroup.

I'm in no way leaving the discussion, and I'm not going to say I'm completely leaving politics. But I just think six years in the Senate is a good place for me to stop and take a look at things.

HANSEN: Do you think you have the personality for national politics? I mean, I'm talking not about the governance but about the fundraising, and so forth.

Mr. WEBB: You know, I let other people make judgments on that. I think we've done a lot of good up there. I think we've done some pretty amazing things. We've been the principal office in the country with respect to criminal-justice reform. We've been the number one office in the Congress with respect to re-establishing our relationships in East Asia, in other than China - which has been vital.

I'm not uncomfortable with the other things. But at the same time, I came here to govern. I think we've done a lot of good things for the country.

HANSEN: While you still have your seat, I'd like to get your take on two matters that have the Senate's attention right now. First, a bipartisan group of six senators are meeting in private to hash out a long-term budget deal. Do you think they'll be successful?

Mr. WEBB: There are a lot of people up here who are working on alternatives. We know that we need to go in different directions. And I've had a number of meetings with different colleagues on this, too. And I think we're all up here feeling a sense of urgency about looking at the amount of spending in the government, and also looking at other ways to make sure that we can invigorate our economy and do a better job in terms of the national debt.

HANSEN: You're also on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and you've had a lot of experience in military affairs. You've come out and warned against providing weapons and military support to anti-government forces - rebels in Libya. What would be, in your opinion, the consequences of U.S. intervention there?

Mr. WEBB: Well, I think that when you look at that part of the world and how volatile it is and how unpredictable it is, it's very important for us to understand who it is that we would be giving military assistance to, and what their relationship would be if they would succeed. And so any military actions that we would take with resistance groups that we don't know very well, you know, we just have to be careful with it.

We have this tendency to get a little bit pregnant in our foreign policy in that part of the world, with potentially devastating implications down the road. We've done it again and again. So any military action inside Libya, you know, people should think real hard about it.

HANSEN: What are your plans once your term ends?

Mr. WEBB: I really don't know. As you might be able to figure it out, I don't really plan my career path.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEBB: You know, I was a Marine, and I was a journalist, and I was a committee council. And I went back out and made movies and did business.

The main thing for me right now is that I have nearly two years left in the Senate, and I've got issues that I really care about up here and, you know, we're going to see them through.

HANSEN: I have the feeling that when you're not in the nation's capital anymore, you'll still be involved with national issues. Are my hunches right?

Mr. WEBB: I think you can predict that.

HANSEN: Senator Jim Webb is the Democrat who represents the state of Virginia. He will be stepping down after finishing his freshman term. We reached him in his office in Washington, D.C. Thank you very much, senator.

Mr. WEBB: Thank you. Nice to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.