Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb offered a deeper glimpse Tuesday into a potential 2016 White House bid, staking out his position as a union supporter eager to put Wall Street profits back into the wallets of hard-working Americans.
“I stand before you today as a card-carrying union member,” said Webb, a Democrat, as he pulled a union card from his pocket during a speech at the annual International Firefighters Association legislative conference in Washington.
Webb, the secretary of Navy under President Ronald Reagan, is among several Democrats trying to figure out whether they could pose a serious challenge to Hillary Clinton, who has yet to formally commit but already commands about 44 percent of the early vote, according to recent polls.
He declined to talk about Clinton using a private server and at least one personal email account for official business while secretary of state, suggesting only that she “come forward” soon with an explanation.
Webb, a Vietnam veteran who surprisingly retired after one Senate term, has a presidential exploratory committee and plans to visit Iowa, a key voting state, next month, but has not set a deadline for declaring a candidacy.
“I’m looking at whether I can fully commit,” he told reporters after his speech, before hundreds of firefighters.
To be sure, as a Republican-turned-Democrat and self-described only Virginia elected official with a “union card, Purple Heart and three tattoos,” Webb and his politics have long baffled and intrigued voters.
And he acknowledged as much Tuesday, referring to an old Politico headline that read "No One Knows Where He Stands."
The 69-year-old Webb referred to military code of honor to argue how chief executives and Wall Street bankers have increasingly and unfairly gobbled up corporate profits, saying food goes first to enlisted men and women, then to officers.
“Now it’s first the deal makers, then the CEOs and the aspiring CEOs,” he said. “This has been the reality, and this has got to stop. … I would think our political leaders would have the political courage to say ‘enough is enough.’ ”
His attack on Wall Street distinguishes him from Clinton, whom some Democrats say is too soft on big banks and corporate America and would fill the role of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a financial reformer who is being encouraged to run in 2016 but so far says she will not.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, another potential Democratic candidate, and a slate of 2016 GOP hopefuls also spoke at the conference.
Webb pledged his support for collective bargaining and argued that the United States is far behind the rest of the world in improving and creating infrastructure and that building bridges and roads would create the kind of good-paying jobs Americans need.
He also renewed his commitment to public education, particularly for adults. And he threw his support behind the bipartisan Capitol Hill effort to reform the criminal justice system -- “from apprehension to release into society.”
Webb also said he is not a Catholic, but that Pope Francis’ “wisdom and sense of justice has inspired a lot of people around the world, including me.”