Lieberman at odds with Dem. caucus

Last December, Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 made one of the most daring acts of his political career: the self-proclaimed Independent Democrat endorsed Sen. John McCain’s candidacy for president.

Now, after the election of Sen. Barack Obama, Lieberman is being forced to defend his position to his colleagues on Capitol Hill. Senate Democrats, fresh off of a series of landslide victories, are considering expelling him from the Democratic Caucus and stripping him of his prominent chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. But according to a handful of Senate insiders, Lieberman will, in all likelihood, continue to caucus with the Democrats.

Playing defense

After his endorsement of McCain, Lieberman fended off criticism by pledging his loyalty to his country rather than to his party. Lieberman echoed statements he made after his 2006 victory as an Independent over Democratic-nominee Ned Lamont SOM ’80.

“I will go to Washington beholden to no political group, but only to the people of Connecticut and my conscience,” he said

Lieberman’s rhetoric irked many of his Democratic colleagues when he attacked some of Obama’s policies this summer, most notably in a speech at the Republican National Convention. In his keynote address, Lieberman criticized Obama’s inexperience and partisanship.

“Eloquence is no substitute for a record — not in these tough times,” he said.

Democrats responded to his remarks with criticism, calling them a breach of his pledge not to attack Obama.

“Everybody is just profoundly disappointed with what Joe did,” Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND) said to The New York Times in September.

But the Democratic leadership did nothing beyond simply expressing their disappointment. At the time, Lieberman was the swing-vote preserving their fragile majority in the Senate.

A new reality

Lieberman seemed not to worry about possible retribution. But now, with the election over, Lieberman faces a new political reality: Democrats are torn between punishing their former vice-presidential nominee and welcoming him back into the fold.

His fate as a member of the Democratic Caucus and as Chairman of the HSGAC is expected to be the subject of a secret ballot among caucus members — set to meet next week, Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, said Wednesday.

Lieberman met with Reid late last week to discuss avoiding the vote, but they were unable to reach an agreement. Politico quoted an unnamed Lieberman aide Friday who said Reid asked Lieberman to step down from the powerful HSGAC and take the helm of a lesser committee, but Lieberman reportedly indicated that the proposition was unacceptable.

Nancy DiNardo, the Connecticut Democratic Party chairwoman, said she doubts he will leave the caucus, despite a resolution put forth by the state party in August censuring him for his support of McCain and calling upon him to remove his name from party rolls.

In a statement released last week, Lieberman pledged to work with the Obama administration, but he made no mention of his future with the Democratic Party.

A spokesperson for Lieberman declined to comment for this story.


If recent news reports are any indication, Democrats still want Lieberman on their side of the aisle.

Obama spoke with Reid last week to say he did not want Lieberman expelled from the caucus.

“President-elect Obama looks forward to working with anyone to move the country forward,” Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said in a statement Tuesday. “We’d be happy to have Sen. Lieberman caucus with the Democrats. We don’t hold any grudges.”

On Wednesday, Politico reported that several leading senators, including Sens. Chris Dodd, Bill Nelson and Ken Salazar are rallying in support of Lieberman before next week’s vote. Requests for comment to the senators’ offices went unanswered.

The simple reason for this support, staffers said, is strategy — Democrats do not have a filibuster-proof hold on the Senate. Democrats also need to anticipate the midterm elections, when historically the party occupying the White House loses seats in Congress, the staffers said.

“They don’t have 60, and it is bad strategy for a party to throw people out,” said David Mayhew, the Sterling Professor of Political Science. “It is also bad publicity.”

Some Democrats are also advocating being gracious in victory.

“Despite what Sen. Lieberman did in campaigning for Sen. McCain, speaking at the Republican convention, he has voted with the Democrats an overwhelming percentage of the time,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the Majority Whip at a Veterans Day event Tuesday.

With the Democrats looking to solidify their hold over the Senate, Lieberman’s position in the Senate seems secure. He is up for re-election in 2012.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.


  • LetJoeStay

    As a supporter of Senator Lieberman I am offended by the threats from Senator Harry Reid and many of his Democratic colleagues to strip Senator Lieberman of his Chairmanships simply because he chose his friendship with John McCain over party politics. In repose to these threats, I have set up the a blog, Let Joe Stay ( with the hope of mobilizing like minded people to contact their Senators as well as Senator Reid and inform them not to put their pettiness ahead of what’s right. Senator Lieberman is the best man for these Chairmanships and to remove him would be foolish. If this is truly the time for hope and change, then Sen. Reid should forgive and forget and allow Joseph Lieberman to keep his Chairmanship.

  • MakeJoeGo

    No, if this is the time for hope and change (as it should be), then committee chairmanships should go to those senators who SUPPORTED change, not those who opposed it. I don't see any other supporters of John McCain being considered for committee chairmanships in the next Congress. Senator Lieberman didn't just choose his friendship with John McCain over his party - he chose it over the change that voters clearly said they wanted this year, and he chose it over a range of policies that he claims to support.

    He was also incredibly duplicitous in doing so. When Joe Lieberman ran for re-election two years ago, he pledged to CT voters he would support the Democratic nominee for president in 2008. He broke that pledge. After doing so, he told his Democratic colleagues in the Senate he would only promote McCain, not launch attacks on Barack Obama. Surprise, he lied again. Not only that, but he questioned Obama's patriotism, accusing him of putting his party ahead of his country.

    We have elections in America where one side wins and the other side loses. The side that wins gets to govern, because they have the support of the people. Joe Lieberman chose to align himself with the side that lost, and now he should have to face the consequences. I do hope he chooses to continue caucusing with the Democrats (surely he knows he has no chance of re-election in 2012 if he doesn't), but he should not be rewarded with the chairmanship of an important committee.

  • John Conklin

    Lets face it, Lieberman like so many other whether or like or dislike him really make a case for term limits. Politicians like Ted Kennedy, Chris Dodd, John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden and numerous others are about in touch with the average american citizen as I am with a citizen of Nepal. I don't believe our founding fathers ever intended for our "representatives" to make a career out of a political office as a membe of the house or senate and we would be well served by term limits for each. Lastly, the democratic party leaders will never kick Joe Lieberman out as committee chair because they want his vote, notwithstanding the fact that Lieberman is a dyed in the wool democrat.