Washington - Joe Lieberman came out of his day of reckoning quite well.
“This is the beginning of a new chapter,” the Connecticut senator said after a private Democratic caucus meeting held November 18 in the historic Old Senate Chamber. The meeting was held to decide what to do about the fact that Lieberman crossed his Democratic colleagues this year to work as a key supporter for the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain.
As punishment, Lieberman’s colleagues forced him to relinquish his seat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. But at the same time, he was allowed to retain his much more significant positions, as chair of both the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and an Armed Services subcommittee.
Some colleagues and liberal Democrats wanted to punish Lieberman more severely, but when the meeting concluded, Lieberman told reporters that he did not feel chastened. “This was done in a spirit of reconciliation,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was among those lawmakers who, at one point, wanted to punish Lieberman. “I would defy anyone to be any more angry than I was,” he said after the meeting, adding that “there is a period of time in Joe Lieberman’s political career that I will never understand or approve.”
Yet the Democratic leader added that “this was not a time of retribution, it was a time of moving forward on the problems of this country.”
Lieberman was helped by the intensive lobbying effort of those whom he called “four great friends” in the Senate: Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Ken Salazar of Colorado, Bill Nelson of Florida and Tom Carper of Delaware. Rather than condemning Lieberman himself, the four Democrats led a lobbying effort and drafted a resolution that opted to disapprove of statements that Lieberman made about president-elect Barack Obama.
Lieberman was re-elected to the Senate as an Independent after losing the 2006 Democratic primary, but he continued to caucus with Democrats in the Senate.
According to several of those present during the November 18 closed-door meeting, Lieberman did not apologize to his colleagues.
Some of the statements attributed to him during the campaign were inaccurate, Lieberman said.
“There were other statements that I made that I wished I had made more clearly, and there were some that I made that I wished I had not made at all,” he told reporters after the meeting. “Obviously, in the heat of campaigns, that happens to all of us, and I regret that and now it’s time to move on.”
Echoing calls from some lawmakers, as well as from Obama, Reid said it wasn’t a time for Democrats to walk out of their meeting with a feeling of, “Boy, did we get even.”
“I am very satisfied with what we did today. I feel good about what we did today. I don’t apologize to anyone for what we did today,” he said.
Reid and other legislators noted that during Lieberman’s 20 years in the Senate, he has voted overwhelmingly with Democrats, though this isn’t the first time that Lieberman has found himself unwelcome among Democrats.
Part of the reason he lost the 2006 primary is that many Democrats were angered by his continued support of the Iraq War and for President Bush’s foreign policy.
While Lieberman said at the meeting that he was pleased to remain in the caucus, he also highlighted that same independence that’s sometimes proved problematic.
“I appreciate their respect for my independence of mind; that’s who I am,” Lieberman said. “But I’ve also been for 45 years a Democrat, and for the last 20 what I consider to be a member in good standing of the Senate Democratic caucus. That’s what the record shows.”