President Donald Trump is considering picking Jim Webb, a former Democratic senator from Virginia who was secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, for defense secretary, several sources told The New York Times.
Officials speaking anonymously to the Times said that representatives for Vice President Mike Pence and acting White House chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had contacted Webb and that his name had been circulating in the White House.
The news comes just days after Patrick Shanahan took over acting defense secretary in the wake of Jim Mattis’ resignation. Picking Webb would forgo a number of hawkish Republican officials who have been floated as potential replacements for Mattis, including Sens. Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham.
Webb, 72, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1968. He served in Vietnam in a Marine rifle platoon and as a company commander.
He was wounded twice and received the Navy Cross, which ranks just below the Medal of Honor, for a 1969 engagement in which he sustained wounds while shielding a fellow Marine from a grenade during an assault on enemy bunkers.
Webb appeared to reference that engagement during a 2015 presidential debate, when he and other candidates were asked to name the enemy they were proudest to have made. “I’d have to say the enemy soldier that threw their grenade that wounded me,” Webb replied. “But he’s not around right now to talk to.”
After his military service, Webb attended Georgetown Law School, graduating in 1975, and from 1977 to 1981 was a House Committee on Veterans Affairs staff member.
He was widely criticized for a 1979 article titled “Women Can’t Fight,” in which he said recent gains in sexual equality had been “good,” but “no benefit to anyone can come from women serving in combat.”
Webb later changed his views on subject and apologized for the article but has faced backlash for it.
He was appointed assistant secretary of defense by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 and in 1987 was made secretary of the Navy. In that position he emphasized fleet modernization and pushed to open more jobs in the service to women. He resigned in 1988.
Webb later switched parties, and in 2006 he won a Senate seat as a Democrat from Virginia.
Webb expressed skepticism about US military campaigns abroad, including a 1990 opinion piece in which he criticized the US military build up in Saudi Arabia ahead of the first Gulf War.
In a 2004 opinion article, Webb analyzed the candidacies of John Kerry and George W. Bush, criticizing both — Kerry for his Vietnam War protests and Bush for committing “arguably … the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory” with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Former Virginia Democratic Sen. Jim Webb.
(Webb2016.com / screengrab)
Fifteen years later, Webb had a testy exchange with the younger Bush at a reception for freshmen members of Congress. Webb declined to have a picture taken with Bush, who later approached Webb and asked about the latter’s son, who was a Marine serving in Iraq at the time. Webb reportedly said he was tempted to “slug” the president.
Webb was mentioned as a potential vice-presidential candidate alongside Barack Obama in 2008, but he said “under no circumstances” would he take the job.
Webb did join the 2016 race for the Democratic nomination for president, but he ended his candidacy in October 2015. A few months later, Webb said he would not vote for 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and added that he had not ruled out voting for Trump.
“This is nothing personal about Hillary Clinton, but the reason I think Donald Trump is getting so much support right now is not because of the racist, you know, et cetera, et cetera, it’s because people are seeing him,” Webb said at the time. “A certain group of people are seeing him as the only one who has the courage to step forward and say we’ve got to clean out the stables of the American governmental system right now.”
Other positions Webb has taken may burnish his appeal to Trump. In summer 2015, he said he was “skeptical” of the Iran nuclear deal signed by President Barack Obama, from which Trump has withdrawn.
During his presidential run, a staff member also said Webb was “his own national security adviser” — which may resonate with Trump, who has touted himself as more knowledgeable than his advisers.
On Dec. 31, 2018, days before The Times reported Webb was under consideration, a number of outlets suggested him to replace Mattis, including the Washington Examiner, a conservative-leaning news outlet, which published an opinion article titled “Trump’s base would love to have Jim Webb as defense secretary.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.