Senate Democrats voted Tuesday morning to keep Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 in his post as chairman of the powerful Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.
As late as two weeks ago, such a scenario was unexpected. The former Democratic vice-presidential candidate turned self-described Independent Democrat upset many of his colleagues when he supported Sen. John McCain’s presidential candidacy.
Calls for Lieberman’s to be ousted as chairman flared after he criticized Sen. Barack Obama as being unfit to lead at the Republican National Convention.
But Obama, now the president-elect, called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid shortly after Election Day to make it clear he wished to have Lieberman remain in the Democratic caucus as a sign of unity.
Sens. Chris Dodd and Ken Salazar presented a plan at Tuesday’s meeting of the Democratic caucus to allow Lieberman to keep his key committee while losing his chairmanship of an Environment and Public Works subcommittee.
“It’s time to unite our country,” Salazar said.
Democratic support for Lieberman is, at least in part, a response to his loyalty to the Senate Democrats. Since 2006 he has been the 51st member of the caucus, granting Democrats a slim majority control in the Senate.
Among Lieberman’s most vocal detractors was a group of liberal Democrats elected in 2006 and 2008. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self described Democratic Socialist, said in a statement Friday that allowing Lieberman to keep his prominent chairmanship would be a slap in the face to Obama supporters.
“Appointing someone to a major post who led the opposition to everything we are fighting for is not ‘change we can believe in,'” he said.
As he entered the historic Old Senate Chamber where the caucus was meeting, Lieberman seemed confident going into the secret ballot.
“I feel very good. I’m going into a roomful of friends,” Lieberman said. “I’m looking forward to a good discussion.”
Reid, on the other hand, was non-committal upon entering the closed-door caucus.
“I’m going to play this by ear and see how it develops,” he said.
Lieberman has served in the Senate since 1988. He is next up for re-election in 2012.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.