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Virginia Sen. Jim Webb Reflects On Time In Congress

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U.S. Democratic Sen. Jim Webb gestures while talking to journalists during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy Wednesday, April 11, 2012, in Yangon, Myanmar.
AP Photo/Khin Maung Win
U.S. Democratic Sen. Jim Webb gestures while talking to journalists during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy Wednesday, April 11, 2012, in Yangon, Myanmar.

Sen. Jim Webb, currently the senior U.S. senator from Virginia, is approaching the end of his time in Congress. He chose not to seek reelection this year, and will be succeeded in January by fellow Democrat Tim Kaine. But before Sen. Webb leaves Capitol Hill he's agreed to share a few reflections with WAMU 88.5 Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey.

On why he decided to leave Congress:

"This is the fourth time in my professional life where I've had a period of public service, and I've always had the cycle of stepping away and getting my bearings again. For me, it's just kind of a natural cycle. I've had a great time — not always a fun time — but a great time in the Senate, and we've done a lot of good things. And it's time to step away to regain my own philosophical independence and do some other things."

On his proudest accomplishments while in the Senate:

"We took on big issues. When I ran for the Senate, I did not run on an 'I got 'ya' kind of legislation... I said we need to re-orient our national security strategy around the world... we were major players over the past six years on Foreign Relations Committee and on Armed Services Committee. I was able to get the chairmanship of the East-Asia subcommittee. I spent a lot of my life in east and Southeast Asia before I came to the Senate. And I think we made the principal contribution from the Congress to the reorientation of our interest to the east and Southeast Asia world. We worked very hard — Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore... we led the shift in focus on Burma... I was the first American leader to visit Burma in 10 years, when we put a trip together in 2009. The second thing we said we were going to do is focus very hard on economic fairness and social justice, and beginning with the rebuttal speech I had with President Bush's State of Union in '07... we put an inequality of compensation... those economic fairness issues on the table. We became the principal office in the United States Congress for trying to reorient our criminal justice system... and then thirdly, I ran on issues of the balance between the Congress and the presidency when it comes to so many of these issues. And I had the same approach with President Obama as I did with President Bush on those issues."

On whether he has any regrets:

"I leave with a heavy heart. It's an incredible honor to be able to represent the people of Virginia, and the people of this country. I'm kind of a born cynic... in a lot of ways, I was raised from my mother's milk to be very skeptical about the ornaments of power. At the same time, everyday when you walk into those historic corridors in the nation's Capitol, you can't help but be reminded not only of the people who have gone before you, but of the responsibility that you have to really try to make our country a better place. So it's been a tremendous honor to be here."

On whether Congress and the White House will reach a deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff:

"As with so many of the issues in this area, you've got a small group of people negotiating pretty much what's going to be Band-aid fixes in order to keep this economic system in somewhat good repair. The best approach should be sometime next year for the administration to really come up with a larger set of proposals with respect to the tax codes, and to entitlement issues, and also with respect to the efficiencies in government. I think that you could find a lot of money... and I think there are a lot of program efficiencies that you can find throughout the federal budget that would help us have a better, more balanced economic system."

On how it felt to watch the ferocious contest for his seat:

"Well, we had a ferocious contest when I ran! I announced nine months to the day before the election, with no money and no campaign staff, running against an individual who had been in office for 25 years. I was outspent all the way, and I know what that feels like. We were down 33 points when we started. I supported Tim. I think he's going to be a really fine senator. I actually predicted at the beginning that he would win by about 5 points, and I think he did. And I was also out campaigning for other people during the campaign season. With respect to Tim, he's got the right temperament, and he has the right integrity."

His thoughts on the status of political parties in the Commonwealth:

"I think in general in the country, we're going to see rethinking in both political parties. This last election nationally, I think there were a lot of negative votes... in other words, I think there were a lot of cases where people were saying the person they were voting for was less harmful than the person they weren't voting for. So, I still think there are strong, positive measures and messages that both parties can take that will motivate people rather than simply have them go to the ballot box looking for the least amount of harm."

Listen to the full analysis here.

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