Chuck Robb

Charles Spittal Robb (born June 26, 1939) is an American politician from Virginia and former officer in the United States Marine Corps. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as the 64th governor of Virginia from 1982 to 1986 and a United States senator from 1989 until 2001. In 2004, he co-chaired the Iraq Intelligence Commission.

Chuck Robb
Robb in 2016 at the LBJ library
Chair of the Iraq Intelligence Commission
In office
February 6, 2004  March 31, 2005
Served with Laurence Silberman
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition abolished
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
January 3, 1989  January 3, 2001
Preceded byPaul Trible
Succeeded byGeorge Allen
64th Governor of Virginia
In office
January 16, 1982  January 18, 1986
LieutenantDick Davis
Preceded byJohn N. Dalton
Succeeded byGerald L. Baliles
33rd Lieutenant Governor of Virginia
In office
January 14, 1978  January 16, 1982
GovernorJohn Dalton
Preceded byJohn Dalton
Succeeded byDick Davis
Personal details
Charles Spittal Robb

(1939-06-26) June 26, 1939
Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
(m. 1967)
EducationUniversity of Wisconsin, Madison (BA)
University of Virginia (JD)
Military service
AllegianceUnited States of America
Branch/service United States Marine Corps
Years of service1961–1970
Rank Major
Battles/warsVietnam War
AwardsBronze Star
Presidential Service Badge

Early life and education

Robb and Lynda Bird Johnson's wedding at the White House, December 9, 1967.

Charles Robb was born in Phoenix, Arizona, the son of Frances Howard (Woolley) and James Spittal Robb.[1][2] He grew up in the Mount Vernon area of Fairfax County, Virginia and graduated from Mount Vernon High School.[3] He attended Cornell University before earning a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1961, where he was a member of the Chi Phi Fraternity.[4][5]

A United States Marine Corps veteran and honor graduate of Quantico, Robb became a White House social aide.[6] It was there that he met and eventually married Lynda Johnson, the daughter of then-U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson in a service celebrated by the Right Reverend Gerald Nicholas McAllister. Robb went on to serve a tour of duty in Vietnam, where he commanded Company I of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines in combat, and was awarded the Bronze Star and Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Star. Following his promotion to the rank of major, he was attached to the Logistics section (G-4), 1st Marine Division.

Robb earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia Law School in 1973, and clerked for John D. Butzner, Jr., a judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Afterwards he resided in McLean, Virginia and entered private practice with Williams & Connolly.[7][8] Robb became active in Virginia politics as a Democrat, and was a member of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee and the Virginia Democratic State Central Committee.[9]


Lieutenant governor and governor

Lieutenant Governor Robb speaks to guests at a luncheon during the Virginia General Assembly's tour of Marine Corps Base Quantico on February 1, 1981.

In 1977 Robb won the election for lieutenant governor of Virginia, the only one of three Democrats running for statewide office to win that year, leaving him as the de facto head of a political party that had not won a governor's race in a dozen years. He served from 1978 to 1982.

Robb led the statewide Democratic ticket as its candidate for governor in 1981. The three Democrats running for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general won by appealing to conservatives who were disenchanted with Robb's Republican opponent, J. Marshall Coleman. Virginia Democrats again won all three statewide offices in 1985, which was viewed as an endorsement of Robb's leadership while in office. As a campaigner, Robb was capable but reserved. During a time when political communication styles were beginning to favor sound bites, Robb was known for speaking in paragraphs about complex policy issues. He was also noteworthy among his contemporaries for raising substantial sums of campaign funds. During his term as governor, Robb founded the Democratic Governors Association in 1983.

Politically, Robb was a moderate and known generally as being fiscally conservative, pro-national security, and progressive on social issues. As governor, he balanced the state budget without raising taxes and dedicated an additional $1 billion for education. He appointed a record number of women and minorities to state positions, including the first African American to the state Supreme Court. He was the first Virginia governor in 25 years to use the death penalty. Robb was instrumental in creating the Super Tuesday primary that brought political power to the Southern states. He was also a co-founder in creating the Democratic Leadership Council. He was a strong vote-getter in Virginia in the 1980s and helped mold a more progressive Virginia Democratic Party than the one that had ruled the state for decades. For a time he was considered a presidential or vice-presidential prospect.

U.S. Senate

An official Senate portrait of Robb

Robb later served as a Democratic member of the United States Senate from 1989 until 2001. Robb was elected in 1988, defeating Maurice Dawkins with 71% of the vote. Robb ranked annually as one of the most ideologically centrist senators and often acted as a bridge between Democratic and Republican members, as he preferred background deal-making to legislative limelight. His fellow Democrats removed him from the Budget Committee for advocating deeper cuts in federal spending.

In 1991, he was one of a handful of Democratic senators to support authorizing the use of force to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The same year, he was one of seven Southern Democrats who voted to confirm the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court in a 52 to 48 vote, the narrowest margin of approval in more than a century. In 1992, he was chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and during his term, the DSCC raised record amounts of funding to elect seven new Democrats to the Senate. The Democratic victory included the election of four new female senators and the re-election of a fifth in what was called The Year of the Woman.

Robb was more liberal on social issues. He voted for the Federal Assault Weapons Ban[10] and against the execution of minors. He was opposed to a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning. In 1993, he supported Bill Clinton's proposal to adopt the don't ask, don't tell policy on homosexuals in the armed forces. Three years later, Robb was the only senator from a Southern state to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act.[11] In stating his opposition to the bill, which his friends and supporters urged him to support, he said the following, "I feel very strongly that this legislation is wrong. Despite its name, the Defense of Marriage Act does not defend marriage against some imminent, crippling effect. Although we have made huge strides in the struggle against discrimination based on gender, race, and religion, it is more difficult to see beyond our differences regarding sexual orientation. The fact that our hearts don't speak in the same way is not cause or justification to discriminate."[12] Some have speculated that his position on gay rights, along with his positions on other hot-button issues like abortion, alienated the generally conservative voters of Virginia and contributed to his eventual defeat.[13]

Despite being outspent 4-1, Robb narrowly defeated former Iran-Contra figure Oliver North in 1994, a poor year nationally for Democrats. Senator John Warner refused to support North and instead backed third-party candidate and former Virginia Attorney General Marshall Coleman, whom Robb had defeated in the 1981 gubernatorial contest. The 1994 Senate campaign was documented in the 1996 film A Perfect Candidate and Brett Morgen's Ollie's Army (where Robb is seen being heckled on the campus of James Madison University). During the campaign, Robb won the endorsement of Reagan's Naval Secretary (and future Democratic senator) Jim Webb, and high-profile Republicans such as Elliot Richardson, William Ruckelshaus, and William Colby.

Following his re-election in 1994, Robb continued to promote fiscal responsibility and a strong national defense; he was the only Senate Democrat to vote for all items in the Republican Party's "Contract with America" when they reached the floor, including a Balanced Budget Amendment and a line item veto. He became the only senator to serve on all three national security committees: Armed Services, Foreign Relations, and Intelligence. After two terms in the Senate and 25 years in statewide politics, he was defeated in a close race in 2000 by his Republican opponent, George Allen, who was also a former governor. Robb was the only Democratic incumbent senator to be defeated in that election.


Robb as lieutenant governor.
Robb as governor.

In 1991, former Miss Virginia USA Tai Collins claimed to have had an affair with Robb seven years earlier, although her allegations were never corroborated and she offered no proof of the affair to reporters. Robb denied having an affair with her, merely admitting to sharing a bottle of champagne and receiving a massage from her in his hotel room on one occasion.[14] Soon after making the allegations, Collins earned an undisclosed amount for posing nude for Playboy magazine.[15]

There were also rumors that during the time he was governor, Robb was present at parties in Virginia Beach where cocaine was used. These rumors were never proven, despite intense investigation by reporters and political operatives. He strongly denied this when the issue was raised during his 1988 campaign for the U.S. Senate. Robb so vehemently denied the cocaine allegation that he claimed to have never seen cocaine.[14][16]

In 1991, three of Robb's aides resigned after pleading guilty to misdemeanors related to an illegally recorded cell phone conversation of Virginia Governor (and possible 1994 Senate primary opponent) Doug Wilder. The scandal of the phone conversation morphed into a federal grand jury investigation when it was alleged that Robb's staff and Robb himself conspired to distribute the contents of a mobile phone call taped by an "electronics buff." Robb and his staff claimed to be unaware of the fact that conversations on cell phones are protected by the same laws governing land lines. The grand jury concluded its eighteen-month investigation with a vote not to indict Robb. Relations between the Senator and Governor were described in the press as a "feud".[17][18][19]

Later career

Robb with President George W. Bush and former U.S. Appeals Court Judge Laurence H. Silberman at a White House press conference announcing the formation of the Iraq Intelligence Commission which he would co-chair with Silberman, February 6, 2004.
Robb at the LBJ Presidential Library in 2016

Following his two terms in the Senate, Robb served on the board of visitors at the United States Naval Academy, and began teaching at George Mason University School of Law. On February 6, 2004, Robb was appointed co-chair of the Iraq Intelligence Commission, an independent panel tasked with investigating U.S. intelligence surrounding the United States' 2003 invasion of Iraq and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. In 2006 he was appointed to serve on the U.S. President's Intelligence Advisory Board. He also served on the Iraq Study Group with former Secretary of State James A. Baker III. A The New York Times article on October 9, 2006, credited Robb with being the only member of the group to venture outside the American controlled "Green Zone" on a recent trip to Baghdad. Robb has served since 2001 as a member of the board of trustees of the MITRE Corporation.[7] Robb serves as a co-leader of the National Security Project (NSP) at the Bipartisan Policy Center.[20] He is also a former member of the Trilateral Commission and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, for which he served on the Independent Task Force on Pakistan and Afghanistan.[7] In addition, he currently serves on the board of directors of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.[21] In April, 2021, the University of Virginia Press published his autobiography, titled In the Arena: A Memoir of Love, War, and Politics.

Personal life

Robb married Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, daughter of then President Lyndon Baines and Lady Bird Johnson, in 1967.[22] They have three daughters and five grandchildren and reside in McLean, Virginia.[7] On the evening of December 21, 2021, their home was consumed in flames and Senator and Mrs. Robb were hospitalized.[23]

See also


  1. Publications, Europa (2003). The International Who's Who 2004. ISBN 9781857432176.
  2. "Ancestry of Laura Welch Bush (B. 1946)".
  3. McClain, Buzz (July 2, 2019). "Former Senator, Schar School Policy Professor Chuck Robb Tapes Video Interview for Mason Archives". George Mason University News. Fairfax, VA.
  4. Online News Hour (2000). "U.S. Senator Chuck Robb Democratic Incumbent: Virginia's U.S. Senate Race". Washington, DC.
  5. Alumni Spotlights (2019). "Alumnus Served for more than 30 Years in Public Service: Charles Robb '61 Developed Lifelong Friendships through Chi Phi". Kappa Chapter of Chi Phi. Cedarburg, WI.
  6. "Robb, Charles". George Mason University. 2007-12-15. Archived from the original on 2008-03-16. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
  7. "Mr. Charles S. Robb". About Us > Board of Trustees. MITRE Corporation. 8 February 2013. Archived from the original on 15 June 2010.
  8. "U.S. Congress Votes Database: Members of Congress / Chuck Robb". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2009-08-12.
  9. "Robb Expected to Announce Candidacy". The Staunton Leader. Staunton, VA. Associated Press. December 28, 1976. p. 7 via
  10. The Second Amendment Controversy Explained. Theodore L. Johnson. Page 516.
  11. American Civil Rights Policy from Truman to Clinton: The Role of Presidential Leadership. Steven A. Shull.
  12. Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People's Right to Marry. Evan Wolfson. pp. 42-43.
  13. More Than Money: Interest Group Action in Congressional Elections. Richard M. Skinner. Page 70.
  14. "Robb denies sex, admits massage". Toledo Blade. April 27, 1991. Retrieved 2015-11-27.
  15. Marylou Tousant (September 5, 1991). "Tai Collins, in the Flesh". The Washington Post.
  16. Sabato, Larry J. (1998-03-27). "Senator Charles S. Robb and Tai Collins". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
  17. B. DRUMMOND AYRES Jr. (January 13, 1993). "Jury Declines to Indict Robb in Taping". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-12-03.
  18. "Wilder-Robb Feud Heats Up Over Tape". Los Angeles Times. June 10, 1991. Retrieved 2010-07-29.
  19. Ross, Michael (May 23, 1992). "Robb's Career in Peril as Feud With Wilder Heats Up". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-07-29.
  20. "National Security Project"
  21. "Board Members"
  22. "Lynda Bird's Shower". Texas Archive of the Moving Image. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  23. "Former senator and Va. governor Chuck Robb, wife injured in massive house fire - The Washington Post". The Washington Post.
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