There’s been a number of knives drawn and pointed at Senator Joe Lieberman, the one-time Democrat who switched to Independent over the issue of the Iraq War. His real sin, though, was in making a very public show of support for his long-time friend Sen. John McCain in the race for the presidency. Lieberman was the Democrat’s Chuck Hagel. Only Hagel isn’t intent upon keeping his Senate seat, not to mention chairmanship.
Lieberman is the influential Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs. Few question his dedication and expertise in this arena. He is one of the primary authors of the legislation creating the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. And in this capacity, he brings credibility to Senate proceedings on homeland security issues.
However, after Barack Obama’s election and the additional victories for the Democrats in the Senate, there are a number in the Democratic Caucus urging that Majority Leader Harry Reid strip Lieberman of his chairmanship. And, they certainly can.
It’s been interesting to read news stories about this confrontation, about whether Lieberman could put up a fight and resist Reid’s urging that he step down. Candidly, there’s no such thing as resisting. Reid makes the call, period. But there are consequences to such a move.
If the Democrats didn’t need Lieberman’s vote, you can be sure that he would have already been offered a “lateral move.” Say to the chairmanship of the Cigarette Butt Disposal and Parking Lot Beautification Committee.
It’s true that the Democrats now control a solid majority in the Senate. However, they have yet to reach the magic “Filibuster Proof” number of 60. And they are achingly close. If Reid strips Lieberman of his chairmanship, that’s one less Democrat that they can count on. And certainly Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will leap at the opportunity to lure the alienated Lieberman into the Republican Caucus.
And the very vengefulness of the move will likely backfire on the Democrats, who, under Obama, are attempting to position themselves as bringing a new kind of politics to Washington.
Nobody can confuse Lieberman as a conservative or even a republican. His alienation from this long-time party, his move from Democrat to Independent, was not prompted by a sudden desire to vote for tax cuts or deregulation or pro-life legislation. It was spurred almost entirely over one very emotional and contentious issue — one which created a rift with his own party and one which led him to embrace McCain as his choice for president: Iraq.
Stripping Lieberman of his chairmanship might salve some partisan wounds, but the shellacking the Democrats gave to the Republicans this election could allow them some magnanimity. They’ve got some big fights ahead — over health care, taxes, fixing the finanical mess. It would not seem a smart tactical move to kick off this New Era with the oldest of political failings in Washington: revenge politics.