Virginia Senator Jim Webb's Risky "Yes" DREAM Act Vote

Published on December 20th, 2010

Virginia’s Jim Webb, Democrat, cast the most curious vote in the Senate’s Saturday 55-41 defeat of the DREAM Act. Webb will run for reelection in 2012. He knows that the recent November election that turned House control over to the Republicans bodes poorly for incumbent Democrats two years from now. Nothing in the economic forecasts or public mood indicates a more positive atmosphere for Democrats. In 2010, the Democrats lost six Senate seats to lower the party’s majority to 53-47. Even though he surely realizes that his party is on shaky ground and that immigration enforcement candidates made major Congressional gains a month ago, Webb aligned himself with the far left wing of the Senate when he voted for the DREAM Act. Webb is on shaky political ground to begin with. In 2006 Webb prevailed by the slimmest margin over the Republican incumbent George Allen. More than two days passed after the election before the registrar declared Webb the winner by 0.5 percent of the vote total. What adds to the mystery is that Webb doesn’t have a lifelong record of advocating for liberal causes. From 1984 to 1988, Webb served in Ronald Reagan’s administration first as the Assistant Secretary for Defense for Reserve Affairs and then as Secretary of the Navy. Furthermore in the 2006 Virginia Democratic primary, Webb crushed Harris Miller, his more liberal, well funded and heavily favored opponent, who had an extensive record of lobbying for more H-1B visas. Webb obviously knows how to effectively campaign. But how does he propose to present himself in 2012? What worked for Webb last time will be a nonstarter two years from now. Here are lines from a 2006 speech that may have put Webb over the top against Miller: “…my family has always served, starting in the American Revolution, up until today. I was a marine, my brother was a marine…we know what it means to be out in the dirt.” Those are stirring words especially coming from a U.S. Marine First Lieutenant who fought in Vietnam and earned a Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. But six years later, although Webb’s heroism remains admirable, public support of endless Middle Eastern wars has eroded. Two possible reasons Webb voted in favor of the DREAM Act are, first, that he misunderstood its magnitude in terms of the numbers of amnestied aliens that would result from it. According to Capitol Hill insiders, Webb said that he considered the DREAM Act to be a “small” amnesty. The opposite is true. About 2 million aliens would eventually get legal status. Second, Webb is married to a Vietnamese refugee, Hong Le, who fled Saigon in a rickety boat and was rescued at sea by a Navy vessel. Le eventually became a model citizen like the DREAM Act poster children its advocates so adamantly insisted all the aliens would be like. Le graduated from the University of Michigan, got a law degree from Cornell University and is now a corporate lawyer married to a powerful United States Senator. Maybe Webb sincerely believed every immigrant’s story would end as happily as Le’s. Webb’s problem is that the American people don’t agree with him–and rightly so. Webb should be concerned that Allen has indicated that he wants his old seat back. Webb’s ill-conceived “yes” vote on the DREAM Act should provide all the incentive Allen needs to declare his candidacy.

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