Webb Picked to Give Democrats' Response to Bush

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Virginia Sen. James Webb, a former Marine elected in November after vehemently opposing the Iraq war, will give the Democratic response to President Bush's State of the Union speech next week, party leaders announced yesterday.

Webb's five-minute speech Tuesday will mark the second consecutive year that a Virginia Democrat has been selected to respond to the president. Timothy M. Kaine (D), then Virginia's newly elected governor, gave the response last year.

The selection of Webb by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) underscores the party's efforts to counteract Bush's decision to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq at a time when opinion polls show most Americans want to begin exploring ways to bring more troops home.

Webb, a former secretary of the Navy who has a son in Iraq, has been one of the Bush administration's most vocal foreign policy critics. Webb has stopped short of calling for an immediate withdrawal, but wants to start repositioning troops to other Arab nations to get them out of harm's way.

"I ran for the Senate to bring an experienced set of eyes to the problems that face our country, ranging from the need for a new direction in Iraq to assuring economic fairness for American workers," Webb said.

On the campaign trail, Webb was fond of saying Bush was going to wake up the day after the election and say "we've got a problem" because the Democrats are in charge.

Webb's upset victory over former senator George Allen (R) provided Democrats with the sixth seat they needed to take control of the Senate. "In a call echoed by Americans across this nation, the people of Virginia sent Senator Webb to Congress to help take our country in a new direction," Reid and Pelosi said in a joint statement.

Webb serves on the Senate Foreign Relations, Armed Services, Joint Economic and Veterans Affairs Committees. At a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq last week, Webb chastised the decision to go to war.

"We went to war in Iraq recklessly; we must move forward responsibly. The war's costs to our nation have been staggering. These costs encompass what we hold to be most precious: the blood of our citizens. They also extend to the many thousands more Iraqi people killed and wounded as their country slides into the chaos of sectarian violence and civil war."

Several Democrats said the decision to have two Virginia lawmakers in a row give the speech highlights the party's efforts to continue to make inroads into what has long been a conservative-leaning state. Some political observers believe Virginia could be competitive in the 2008 presidential race, even though the state has not voted for a Democrat for president since 1964.

"It's a wonderful recognition of the state of the Virginia Democratic Party," said Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Arlington), chairman of the House Democratic caucus.

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