Jim Webb Pulls a Pelosi

Republicans disheartened by the loss of a Virgina senate seat to Jim Webb in 2006, have discovered he is the gift that keeps on giving.  His latest antics put him on par with Nancy Pelosi.

Shortly after becoming Speaker of the House, Representative Pelosi began a feud with the Pentagon over private air service for her travel needs to San Francisco.  After September 11, 2001, the Department of Defense provided Speaker of the House, Denny Hastert, a Gulfstream jet to fly back and forth to his constituency.  Speaker Pelosi then blindsided the Pentagon with her insistence that she be granted a Boeing 757 to fly her friends, family, and staff with her back and forth to San Francisco.

According to Senate sources, Senator Jim Webb is now staging a similar struggle for family travel.

Sen. Webb has “holds” on four Department of Defense nominees.  The nominees are Hon. Nelson M. Ford to be Under Secretary of the Army; Mr. Joseph A. Benkert to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Security Affairs; Mr. Sean J. Stackley to be Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition; and Mr. Frederick S. Celec to be Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Chemical and Biological Defense Programs.  Their nominations can’t be voted on while the “holds” remain.

Behind the scenes, Sen. Webb has told colleagues the holds are punishment for the Pentagon failing to provide him answers relating to Blackwater Worldwide, the security firm routinely used by the Pentagon.  However, multiple Senate sources report the real reason for the hold is far different and very personal.

Sen. Webb is expected to travel on a tax-payer funded junket to Southeast Asia.  He  wants both his wife and his 18 month old child to accompany him without having to pay reimbursement to the government.  Unfortunately, according to a March 9, 2007, letter from Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), while spouses are permitted to go with the Senator, “relatives of Senators (other than spouses) will not be permitted to travel with Senate delegations.”

While none of this controversy has been made public, a senior Republican aide provided a me with a copy of Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s letter of June 26, 2008 to Senator Webb.  The letter “follow[ed] up on [their] recent phone conversation and respond[ed] to [Senator Webb’s] letter regarding a training facility proposed by Blackwater Worldwide in Otay Mesa, CA.”

Senator Webb’s letter asked a number of questions about Blackwater Worldwide.  Gates’ response curiously goes on to the real reason for Webb’s feud with the Pentagon, “You asked me about the differences between the Department’s policy on military air travel for DoD dependents and for family of members of Congress.” 

Senate sources say Senator Webb most likely made it clear on the phone, and not in writing to the Secretary of Defense, that his hold was as much related to personal travel as it was to Blackwater.  Curiously, and relevant to the speculation, Secretary Gates felt the need to add a paragraph to his letter about travel of “relatives other than spouses” of members of Congress.

A Senate Republican aide said, “Webb is suggesting that he is holding nominations as punishment for not getting answers back from questions relating to Blackwater, but in reality, it is leverage to get the Secretary to let his wife and eighteen month old both accompany him on this trip.”  With the Secretary of Defense’s admonition to Senator Webb that “Senate travel is governed by a memo signed by the Senate leadership dated March 9, 2007, specifically stating that relatives other than spouses are not permitted to travel with Senate delegations” and “DoD Directive 4515.12 prescribes policy for DoD travel support for members of Congress” in a manner reflecting the Senate policy, Senator Webb has run out of legitimate reasons for his holds.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has placed all four nominees on the Senate Executive Calendar subject to the nominees’ “commitment to respond to requests to appear and testify before any duly constituted committee of the Senate.”  Nonetheless, according to a Senate aide connected to the Armed Services Committee, Sen.Webb is refusing to release his hold on the nominees despite Secretary Gates’s written response to his questions about Blackwater Worldwide.