April 19th, 2015
01:24 PM ET

Webb: “looking hard” at White House run

Today on CNN’s State of the Union, Jim Sciutto spoke to former Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) in an exclusive interview covering his potential presidential bid and his views on the Iran deal.

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

On running for president

WEBB: We are looking at it and looking at it hard. I think the reality, obviously, I have been independent all my political career. It's how I could work comfortably in the Reagan administration and then comfortably serve as a Democrat. But we're never going to have this financial leviathan machine that is going to pull in $2.5 billion, as some people do. I'm never going to have a political consultant at my side whispering what I should say or how I should dress or whether I ought to go to Wal-Mart or not. But what we do have is long experience on the issues in and out of government, strong beliefs about where the country needs to go, and I think the kind of leadership that - where we can govern and we can pull in people who love our country and try to develop some strong positions on fairness at home and common sense and foreign policy.

On the Iran negotiations

WEBB:…There are three things we need to look at with respect to the Iran deal. The first is, I don't believe that you can have a legally binding international commitment without the full consent of the Congress, not the oversight that they are offering in this bill, although I would say I think he has made quite an - quite an accomplishment by getting this bill through the committee in the form that it is.

SCIUTTO: You believe it needs approval as it were a treaty?

WEBB: Specific approval.  And I said this when the Bush administration was putting together the strategic framework agreement in Iraq in '08. I said it when President Obama said he was going to have a binding legal arrangement with respect to climate change. You cannot do that without the specific consent of the Congress. And, secondly, with respect to Iran itself, we need to look at this region. As you know, there are three major power centers in the region, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

And since our invasion of Iraq, Iran has gained a much stronger foothold in terms of that balance of power. So, we don't want to be sending signals into this region that we are acquiescing to the situation where Iran might become more dominant. And, thirdly, as they said over and over again in your interview, we don't know what is in this, the particulars. So, it's vitally important that Congress come forward and examine this agreement in detail and get a vote.”

TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

SCIUTTO: Joining me now is one potential rival for the nomination, decorated Vietnam veteran, former secretary of the Navy, and former senator, Jim Webb.

Senator Webb, thanks very much for coming on this morning.

JIM WEBB (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Thanks for having me. Good to be with you.

SCIUTTO: We took note. You have been in Iowa and South Carolina, two states hold very early presidential contests. No accident there.

Have you decided whether you are going to run for president?

WEBB: No. We are looking at it and looking at it hard.

I think the reality, obviously, I have been independent all my political career. It's how I could work comfortably in the Reagan administration and then comfortably serve as a Democrat. But we're never going to have this financial leviathan machine that is going to pull in $2.5 billion, as some people do.

I'm never going to have a political consultant at my side whispering what I should say or how I should dress or whether I ought to go to Wal-Mart or not. But what we do have is long experience on the issues in and out of government, strong beliefs about where the country needs to go, and I think the kind of leadership that - where we can govern and we can pull in people who love our country and try to develop some strong positions on fairness at home and common sense and foreign policy.

SCIUTTO: That sounds to me like an election pitch.

WEBB: Well, that's what we would be offering, from a much different perspective.

I think, when you get the political commentators at a table, one of the first things they talk about is, can you raise $1 billion? And I think what the average person in our country is looking at is, can you lead, and how do you get to a position where you can connect your views in an environment where billions of dollars are coming in, particularly since Citizens United?

So, that's what we're looking at. And those are the evaluations we have to make.

SCIUTTO: Are you leaning towards running?

WEBB: We had a good visit to Iowa. I will be going back in about a week. And it's - as you know, it's a state with highly intelligent citizenry when it comes to politics.

I have a cousin who lives in Cedar Rapids who told me he met four presidential candidates one day when he was out watering his yard.

SCIUTTO: That's great.

WEBB: So, it's a good place to see whether the message can... (CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: There are four times - there are four times that many on the Republican side, so it's conceivable.

(LAUGHTER)

SCIUTTO: You talk a lot about leadership here, but in past public statements. Does Hillary Clinton have that leadership quality that you are talking about?

WEBB: I think her discussions with the voters, people are going to decide. They're looking real hard at everyone. I think we have got a lot of incumbent fatigue in the country. And I think people are looking for fresh approaches in terms of how to solve the problems of the country.

SCIUTTO: So, you don't believe - you don't believe that she has that leadership...

(CROSSTALK)

WEBB: I wouldn't make that judgment. I think that's what this process is all about.

[09:25:02]

SCIUTTO: Would you support Hillary Clinton if she does win the nomination?

WEBB: I am focusing on what we will be trying to do here.

And there's - I think Secretary Clinton has plenty of opportunity to sit here and give you her thoughts. And, by the way, before we - before we get about - too far away from the moment here, I would like to give you a reaction to the interview you had with Senator Corker.

SCIUTTO: This is on the Iran deal.

WEBB: Yes.

SCIUTTO: And just to summarize for our viewers, Corker and Cardin, Democrats, successfully passed a compromise bill giving congressional oversight.

Senator Cardin said, we don't trust Iran. Senator Corker said, he believes that Obama administration has given up too much, although he hasn't seen the final details.

Do you agree with that assessment?

WEBB: Well, I think, when we look at the Iran situation - first, I worked with Bob Corker on a lot of issues when I was on the Foreign Relations Committee, and particularly during the Arab spring, when the administration was going into Libya without coming to the Congress.

There are three things we need to look at with respect to the Iran deal. The first is, I don't believe that you can have a legally binding international commitment without the full consent of the Congress, not the oversight that they are offering in this bill, although I would say I think he has made quite an - quite an accomplishment by getting this bill through the committee in the form that it is.

SCIUTTO: You believe it needs approval as it were a treaty?

WEBB: Specific approval.

And I said this when the Bush administration was putting together the strategic framework agreement in Iraq in '08. I said it when President Obama said he was going to have a binding legal arrangement with respect to climate change. You cannot do that without the specific consent of the Congress.

(CROSSTALK)

WEBB: And, secondly, with respect to Iran itself, we need to look at this region. As you know, there are three major power centers in the region, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

And since our invasion of Iraq, Iran has gained a much stronger foothold in terms of that balance of power. So, we don't want to be sending signals into this region that we are acquiescing to the situation where Iran might become more dominant.

And, thirdly, as they said over and over again in your interview, we don't know what is in this, the particulars. So, it's vitally important that Congress come forward and examine this agreement in detail and get a vote.

SCIUTTO: To be fair, we don't know the final details, but we know a fair amount about this agreement. We know, in the most basic terms, that all the nuclear sites are going to remain. There are going to be modifications, fewer centrifuges.

The military site, the secret military site will no longer be spinning uranium, but it will keep those centrifuges. These, if we look back a couple of years, are pretty significant concessions on the part of the Obama administration. When you look at the basic outline of this agreement, is it a good deal?

WEBB: Well, again, we know our interpretation of the outline of the agreement.

SCIUTTO: Well, that's another problem, right?

WEBB: And we see that Iran has given its interpretation, which is another reason why we need to really scrub this whole idea.

And the other thing that I keep coming back to is, when we go back to the time that I was in the Pentagon in the 1980s, and we were talking about the SALT agreements and the reduction in nuclear arms with the Soviet Union, both sides had nuclear weapons. And we were talking about a .

And the end result of this could well be our acquiescence in allowing Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. We don't want that. I don't - I'm not - I don't think the Iranians really want that, because, if they look in this region, they're going to see that you're going to have proliferation.

But we need to really be on top of this. And I think the piece that Secretary Kissinger and George Shultz wrote in "The Wall Street Journal" summed it up about as well as it could summed up.

SCIUTTO: Well, they criticized the agreement. They said that it was too much of a concession.

Who is right? Are Shultz and Kissinger right, or is the Obama administration right?

WEBB: Well, on the side of the Obama administration, Bill Burns, who - former deputy secretary of state, is one of the great diplomats.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Key negotiator.

(CROSSTALK)

WEBB: One of the great diplomats. He wrote a very fine piece on the other side.

The questions that Kissinger and Shultz raised about verification and what was on the other side are really important. That's why the Congress needs to scrub this and give specific approval, if - and I am saying as someone who potentially could be in - obviously in the executive branch, but I think it's healthy for the country.

SCIUTTO: I want to move across the border from Iran to Iraq.

This was not a good week in the fight against ISIS. You have ISIS nearly taking over Ramadi, the largest city in Western Iraq, Sunni-dominated Western Iraq, assaulting the Baiji refinery - this is a key piece of infrastructure there, and carrying out - or claiming to carried out an attack on the U.S. Consulate or close to the U.S. Consulate in Irbil, which we know is one of the most secure places in Iraq.

Is the U.S. losing the war against ISIS?

WEBB: Well, first of all, I think, as you know, my son fought in Ramadi as a Marine enlisted rifleman. And I was in Afghanistan as an embed journalist in '04.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: A lot of Americans died in Ramadi, 75 in one two-month period.

(CROSSTALK)

WEBB: Yes. And that period - my son was there '06-'07, was a lot of very heavy fighting.

We have to look at the conflicts in Iraq and elsewhere in the region through the Sunni-Shia eye, as well as simply from the American perspective eye. And we need to get the countries on the ground over there to step up and help sort this out. I'm not - I wouldn't say that the United States is losing over there.

But you are seeing a continuation actually from the sectarian violence that began when we invaded and then from the Arab spring which kind of threw everything up in the air again.

SCIUTTO: Is the coalition losing then? It doesn't sound like they're winning based on that.

WEBB: Well, I think, clearly what you are seeing is the greater influence of Iran. You know, even if you look at the - what we call the Iraqi military, the dominance of the Shia in the Iraqi military and of the other groups that are fighting alongside it in places like Tikrit, which is another reason why we don't want to spend the wrong message into the region with the strategic framework agreement that we are looking at.

SCIUTTO: Senator Jim Webb, when you make your decision on 2016, will you come back here and tell us yea or nay?

WEBB: You will know.

SCIUTTO: Thanks very much for joining us on a Sunday.

WEBB: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

END

 


Topics: CNN • Iran • Jim Sciutto • State of the Union
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