Should Senator Joe Lieberman give up his Democratic Homeland Security seat, as some say it is the right thing to do? Was Senator Obama wrong in setting the tone for allowing him to stay on as chair of the Senate Homeland Security committee? Was the Senate wrong in not giving Lieberman the boot from the committee?
Lifeline fits Obama’s story line
Letting Lieberman keep posts meets his political strategy
By Mike Dorning, Janet Hook and James Oliphant
November 19, 2008
WASHINGTON – Barack Obama has long presented himself as a hybrid, at once a liberal advocate and a postpartisan bridge-builder, a romantic out to change the world and a canny pragmatist grounded in the gritty realities of politics.
Now the tension in Obama’s political makeup is coming into clearer view as he moves closer to governing.
On Tuesday, some of his liberal activist supporters reacted with anger when Senate Democrats-at Obama’s urging-turned aside attempts to strip Sen. Joe Lieberman of a committee chairmanship. The liberals, and some senators, had wanted to punish Lieberman for campaigning with Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee.
An independent who allied is with Democrats, Lieberman of Connecticut is reviled as a turncoat by Democratic loyalists and despised by anti-war activists for his support of the Iraq War. So his continued presence in a high-profile post was a bitter disappointment to many of the same people who enthusiastically embraced Obama.
“Outrageous,” declared Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who pulled out a copy of Lieberman’s speech to the Republican National Convention to read passages aloud to reporters staked outside a meeting of Senate Democrats.
Liberal blogs buzzed with fury. Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, editor of the Daily Kos Web site, in an interview denounced Senate Democrats as “tone deaf” and “completely unable to understand how Democrats earned their majority.”
The liberal anger, however, did not include immediate signs of diminished enthusiasm for the newly elected president. That may provide Obama with more room to maneuver as he uses the aftermath of his election victory to send conciliatory signals.
Obama has begun trying to heal the rift within the party by reaching out to his chief primary rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), by considering her for secretary of state. He also conferred with McCain on Monday, in one of the earliest post-campaign meetings to take place between White House rivals in recent times.
The steps reflect an inclination toward consensus-building and the political center evident throughout Obama’s life.
Though a favorite of liberal bloggers, he posted an essay defending Democratic senators who voted to confirm U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts against vitriolic attacks on the Internet.
When Lieberman faced a challenge from the anti-war left in 2006, Obama campaigned in person on his behalf during the primary. Later, he gave eventual Democratic nominee Ned Lamont only an e-mail endorsement late in the general election campaign while Lieberman ran as an independent.
As far back as Obama’s tenure as president of the Harvard Law Review, during a time of deep ideological division, he surprised many of his liberal supporters by selecting conservative members of the staff for several coveted positions.
In dealing with Lieberman, Obama, who resigned from the Senate on Sunday, has been well aware of how often legislation fails or succeeds on a single vote. An embittered senator poses particular peril because of Senate rules that allow any one member to grind business to a halt and obstruct legislation.
That is a reality that influential liberal activists said they understood. Even as Zuniga excoriated Senate Democrats for not moving more aggressively against Lieberman, he gave Obama a pass on the president-elect’s expression of support for the Connecticut senator.
“He has to make nice comments about Lieberman. He met with McCain the other day. It’s all theater,” Zuniga said.
John Isaacs, president of the Council for a Livable World, an anti-war group, said that while he and other activists were disappointed by the Lieberman outcome, it did not damage Obama’s credibility with the left.
“There are going to be so many more opportunities for Democrats to be disappointed in Obama,” Isaacs said. “People will always look for 100 percent, and when they get 80 percent, they will point to the 20 percent they disagree on.”
In a secret ballot Tuesday, Senate Democrats voted 42-13 not to strip Lieberman of his post as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security committee. As part of the arrangement, the senators approved a resolution condemning statements Lieberman made during the campaign and said he would have to leave the Senate’s environment committee, where has been chairman of a subcommittee.
The senators were quick to publicly credit Obama for their decision. Last week he had asked them not to drive away Lieberman, who usually works with the party.
“Sen. Obama is the one who’s setting the tone,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a strong Obama supporter. “The ‘old politics’ is revenge and retribution. The ‘new politics’ is let’s get together and work together.
“It would have been uncomfortable, like wearing shoes a size too small, to say, ‘Off with his head.’ ”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had been harshly critical of Lieberman before the vote, but he urged angry liberal activists to put the matter behind them.
“Let me say that I … pretty well understand anger,” Reid told reporters. “I would defy anyone to be more angry than I was. But I also believe that if you look at the problems we face as a nation, is this a time we walk out of here saying, ‘Boy, did we get even.’ “?
After the vote, Lieberman thanked Obama for his show of support and said he regretted some of the statements he made in the heat of the campaign-although he said some had been misconstrued.
“There are other statements that I made that I wish I had made more clearly,” he told reporters. “And there are some that I made that I wish I had not made at all.”
Should Senator Lieberman give up his seat as some say it may be the right thing to do? Was Senator Obama wrong in setting the tone for allowing him to stay on as Chair of the Senate Homeland Security committee? Was the Senate wrong in not giving Lieberman the boot from the Committee.