The 'Aunt Lena test': Why Jim Webb's great-aunt would not allow him in her house

Jeff Zeleny, Richard Coolidge and Alexandra Dukakis
Power PlayersJune 3, 2014

The Fine Print

Politics has always been a part of the Webb family.

Long before he was elected to the U.S. Senate, back when James Webb was 30, he went to visit his grandmother’s youngest sister in Kensett, Ark. He had recently graduated from law school, but his great aunt was not impressed.

In an interview with “The Fine Print,” Webb recalls the encounter: “She looked at me and said ‘you've been to law school, did they teach you how to lie yet?’”

A few months later, after he started working for a congressman, Webb went to see her again, “she said, ‘you'll sell out, they all sell out, when you prove to me that you won't sell out, I'll let you in my house.’ She met me in the front yard.”

This was the “Aunt Lena test.”

She wanted him to convince her that he was going to stay true to the values, roots and people with whom he grew up.

The former Democratic senator from Virginia and decorated Vietnam veteran is out with a new book, “I Heard My Country Calling,” which details his experience growing up in a military family and documents his own service in Vietnam.

While he has flirted with seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, he admits most of the chatter about White House ambitions have been generated by others and he’s not promoting the idea.

His own political future aside, Webb said 2016 is an opportunity to shake up the party. While other Democrats have rushed to endorse Hillary Clinton -- even before she announces whether she'll run -- Webb has not.

“I think the Democratic Party really needs a healthy debate, and particularly on the foundations of the Democratic Party, which always have been that you are supposed to be a voice in the quarters of power for the people who have no power,” he said.

Webb would not hint at whether that “debate” should be in the form of a strong primary challenge - to a potential run by Clinton - but he made clear he isn’t signing on to anyone’s campaign yet.

Webb did say the former secretary of state bears some responsibility for what he says was an excessive use of presidential authority.

“I think the entire Libyan operation was bad for our country,” he said of America’s intervention into Libya. “If you give that presidential authority to intervene in a country without going to the Congress with that kind of a vague term what standard are we setting? And that's something I think the administration is responsible for,” Webb later added.

As a senator who worked on Veterans Affairs legislation and a decorated war hero who counts a Purple Heart among his military honors, Webb believes that strong leadership will help veterans get the help they need.

“I think they have to address the backlog,” Webb said of the backlog of more than 280,000 veterans waiting for the VA to process their benefits claims.

“We need to get people into the system. We know the demographics and the technicalities of the claims process are kind of working against it, but put your energy into places where you can get veterans into the system and get their cases adjudicated,” he added.

For more of the interview with Webb, including his thoughts on losing the last World War II veteran in Congress, click on this episode of “The Fine Print.”

ABC News’ Gary Westphalen, Tom Thornton, Brian Haefeli and Gale Marcus contributed to this episode.