Webb Says Virginia a Challenge for Obama Over Health Care

Senator Jim Webb
U.S. Senator Jim Webb. Photographer: Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images

Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia said it’s a “big question mark” whether President Barack Obama will be able to carry his state again in this year’s election because Obama’s handling of the health-care overhaul harmed his credibility.

While Virginia’s recent demographic changes, including an influx of immigrants into the northern part of the state, should favor Democrats, Obama’s fate there -- and nationally -- will be tied to how people perceive his leadership, Webb, who’s retiring after one Senate term, said at a Bloomberg Breakfast in Washington.

“The manner in which the health-care-reform issue was put in front of the Congress -- the way that the issue was dealt with by the White House -- cost Obama a lot of credibility as a leader,” Webb said. “From that point forward, Obama’s had a difficult time selling himself as a decisive leader.”

Obama may benefit from the fact that the presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, himself backed a health-care plan that mandated medical insurance coverage as the national law does, Webb said.

‘Room to Run’

“The president, obviously, has some room to run, because Romney had his Massachusetts health-care plan,” he said. “But in terms of marking leadership attributes, I think it still hurts” Obama.

The president pushed the health-care law through Congress in 2010 on a party-line vote with Republicans united in opposition, and its fate now rests with the Supreme Court, whose ruling on its constitutionality will probably come in June. Romney says he would repeal the law if he wins the White House.

Obama won Virginia in 2008, becoming the first Democratic presidential nominee to do so since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

Webb, 66, a former Navy secretary who just returned from a trip to Asia, also called for immediate action to begin unraveling U.S. sanctions on Myanmar and said he was working to set a hearing as early as next week to begin the process.

“If we were to do it -- and I think we should -- it’s going to require, you know, votes in the Congress and all these sorts of things,” he said of further engagement with Myanmar.

‘Huge Step Forward’

Webb, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, said recent by-elections there, while not perfect, indicate a “huge step forward, and I think we need to reciprocate.”

He said he would consult with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about rolling back sanctions, a complex process since they are imposed through “a series of interlocking laws” that would have to be repealed.

“I need to talk to the administration about it, and then this is also an issue where there are a number of members of Congress who have a very, very personal view of our foreign policy toward that country,” Webb added.

The senator gave Romney poor grades on foreign policy, saying he should consult more with experts on the topic.

“From what I have read of Romney’s foreign policy declarations,” Webb said, “I think he needs to have a lot more discussions with the people he might be hiring to take some of those posts.”

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