Webb Savors Every Minute of His Moment

Accompanied by his family, Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin arrives for the reenactment of his swearing-in ceremony with Vice President Cheney.
Accompanied by his family, Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin arrives for the reenactment of his swearing-in ceremony with Vice President Cheney. "It's wonderful," said Cardin's wife, Myrna. "My little Benji!" (Bill O'leary - Twp)
By Eric M. Weiss and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 5, 2007

Being sworn in as a U.S. senator by Vice President Cheney was great. Taking his new desk next to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) was neat. Being squired around the Capitol by former Virginia senator Charles S. Robb (D) was an honor.

But what newly minted Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) called his "beer moment" yesterday was feeling the warm embrace of several hundred supporters, campaign workers and family, all of whom were whoopin' and hollerin' and spillin' out of a Senate reception room.

Webb jumped up on a table and hoisted his 3-week-old daughter, Georgia, into the air to the roar of the crowd. Next to him was his wife, Hong Le Webb, dressed in a red and ivory ao dai, a traditional Vietnamese dress.

"It truly makes me feel like we did the right thing," said the self-styled warrior-poet, who defeated incumbent Sen. George Allen (R) in a tough, bitter race, improbably delivering the Senate to the Democrats and making him something of a hero to fellow party members. "Now we all have work to do."

Webb was joined yesterday by fellow Senate freshman Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), who also took the oath of office on the first day of the 11oth Congress. Cardin served 20 years in the House before being elected to replace retiring senator Paul S. Sarbanes (D).

In an address to several hundred supporters who munched on bagels in a committee room of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Cardin pledged to prioritize health care and education and to work with the Bush administration to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.

Over in the Capitol, Webb was getting accustomed to the real business of the Senate: facing the TV cameras. He talked about his first bill, introduced yesterday, that would create a new G.I. Bill with enhanced benefits. And the decorated Vietnam veteran, who opposed the war in Iraq from its start, derided President Bush's expected call for more troops, saying that while it is a commander-in-chief's prerogative, "the question is whether it is a strategy."

On this day of ceremony, the pugnacious Webb was well-behaved. He traded in his son's combat boots, which he wore throughout his campaign, for a pair of burgundy dress shoes. And he politely shook Cheney's hand after being sworn in, avoiding a repeat of the chilly exchange that unfolded between Webb and President Bush at the White House in November, when Webb rebuffed the president when Bush asked about his son.

Earlier in the day, Webb appeared almost awed. As the Senate chamber filled for the swearing-in ceremonies, Webb stuck to the back wall. He stood biting his lower lip, his hands clasped in front of him as Robb introduced him around and gave him the skinny on Senate procedures.

Fellow Virginian John Warner (R-Va.) came over and gave Webb a hearty handshake and kibitzed for a while. Webb shared a joke with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). He warmly greeted two fellow Vietnam veterans, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and former senator Max Cleland (D-Ga.).

After he took the oath of office and signed the Senate register, Webb held up the pen to supporters in the gallery. He said later that Robb told him the pen was special. It doesn't say "U.S. Senate," Webb explained, it says "U.S. Senator."

Next it was time for the reenactment of his swearing-in ceremony, this time surrounded by family. Webb took the oath on his U.S. Naval Academy bible. Afterward, Cheney smiled for a Webb family photo and wished him "congratulations."

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