The Political Argument Against Chairman Joe Lieberman

by: David Sirota

Tue Oct 21, 2008 at 15:00


If Democrats retain the Senate and Barack Obama wins the presidency, there is an critical political argument to be made for stripping Joe Lieberman of his chairmanship of Senate Governmental Affairs Committee - an argument that goes way beyond all the personal animus we feel toward him and even beyond his gross transgressions (ie. supporting the Iraq War, speaking at the GOP convention, etc.). I made this political argument to Salon.com today:

Keeping [Lieberman] in the [chairmanship] could be a real problem for an Obama administration; if Lieberman wanted to stir up trouble, he could launch investigation after investigation, with support from Republican members of the panel, even though the Democrats have big majorities in the House and Senate. "Lieberman is a lot of things, and one of the things he is is a media whore," Sirota said. "You combine his need for attention with his, I would say, pretty vitriolic anger towards Barack Obama, and you take those two things and empower him with the committee chairmanship whose major function is to investigate an administration, and you've got a pretty nasty brew there."

Regardless of whether Democrats have 54 votes or 60 votes, Joe Lieberman simply cannot be trusted with subpoena power to initiate witchhunts against a new Democratic president - a new Democratic president he has repeatedly slandered during this campaign. I suspect that because of Senate clubbiness and insider-ishness, we will have to make precisely this kind of political argument to get him dethroned from his chairmanship. Democratic senators often let their personal affinities cloud their judgment - but even the stupidest and most corrupt of them understands the mortal threat a subpoena-empowered Chairman Lieberman poses to the Democratic Party.

David Sirota :: The Political Argument Against Chairman Joe Lieberman

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Lieberman has no place in this caucus (4.00 / 2)
They need to toss him out on November 5th. Hell the could toss him out now.

Move him to Veteran's Affairs or something. (4.00 / 1)
Where he can feel macho and martial and butch without actually affecting major national policy directions.  

Obama has a slot on the committee that will be coming open.  Just let Akaka chair something else.  

Actually Akaka is on Governmental Affairs already.  So just ask Joe to join and chair Veteran's Affairs, which would then let Akaka rise into the chair of Governmental Affairs.  Can Joe really afford to turn down a request to serve our veterans???


Forget that... (4.00 / 1)
Put Joe on the least important committees out there... or start a new one on Senate Garbage Collection for him to chair... he should appreciate the irony.

[ Parent ]
Why would we care (4.00 / 2)
how he feels? Shut him out.

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We're still going to have to win cloture votes (4.00 / 1)
on all these important issues that you and I profess to care deeply about.  Throwing Lieberman over to the GOP and losing a vote on the truly meaningful policy issues of our time is childish.  It feels good, but it does not help advance the causes that again, we all claim to be our primary motives.

We need to keep Lieberman's vote on the 80% of issues where he votes with us, and yet prevent him from doing any meaningful damage on foreign policy, or to the Obama administration.  That means keeping him in the conference somehow, but shunting him into a harmless location that he nonetheless can't refuse.  Veteran's Affairs is perfect.


[ Parent ]
it advances party discipline (4.00 / 6)
there are certain lines that you're not supposed to cross as a member of a political party, regardless of what it is.  It should take exceptional circumstances to cross those lines (like war or an impending Depression or some such thing).  I don't believe that anything about the current environment suggests that Joe Lieberman needed to not just endorse, but campaign for the candidate of the Republican Party.  I don't see why he shouldn't be tossed out and thoroughly marginalized.  If he wants to become a Republican, fine - let him be a Republican.  We need more pro-choice Republicans anyhow.

But I think that your solution to this is fine - give him a minor post if that'll keep him voting with the Democrats on progressive issues.  I just wanted to be clear that there are lines that progressives need to draw, and supporting and campaigning for John McCain and speaking at the RNC near the height of its insanity is FAR past them.


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If not now, when? (4.00 / 2)
I can't believe you think this party is so weak that it needs to depend on a Joe Lieberman to be a success.  No accountability.  Not for Lieberman, not for Bush, not for Katrina, not for the war, not for the meltdown, and not for the wimpy bailout.   Everybody has an excuse.   There has to be party discipline, and there has to be justice for more than poor people and black guys.  

[ Parent ]
Do we have Lieberman's vote in the first place? (4.00 / 1)
The argument here is, basically, the Democratic Party is taking one person who was not elected them as a democrat and bribing them with the kind of treatment the party normally gives to its senior members, in hopes this bribe will convince them to allow us to get from 59 to 60 votes, when that specific number comes up, assuming it's on an issue that this person is actually aligned with us on.

I think there's an essential cost-benefit analysis that we've forgotten to make here. Are there other ways to deal with the situation of "we have exactly 59 votes on some issue"? Would giving up on maintaining Lieberman free up resources or slack that could be used to pursue some of these? For example, could we ride out filibusters if we had better party discipline, such as might be possible if we didn't have Lieberman within our caucus but working at cross-purposes? Heck, what if we just took the seniority privileges we currently give to Lieberman and offered them to Olympia Snowe conditional on her switching caucuses?

Having a supermajority in Congress plus control of the presidency is a darn weird situation. I think it says something about how timid the Democratic brand has become that they're about to come to the very threshold of that situation and still be playing the sort of cowering-to scrape-up-votes game that we were playing when they were a minority in every branch.


[ Parent ]
Good Article... (4.00 / 1)
I agree 100%...  

I just can't imagine that there is a valid argument to keep Joementum as a Chair...  THE ONLY valid reason is the current one of him being the tie breaker and that just ISN'T going to happen.    

Start of the term, he should lose his place.  He wants to caucus with the GOP... so be it.   Filibuster votes aren't guarenteed, and unless he is retiring, I have a feeling he'd play ball on a lot of these simply for re-election.  


Argument? (4.00 / 2)
What's to argue? He's no Democrat either in name or in loyalties. The Dem leadership will pay a heavy price if it lets Old Boys Club cronyism trump simple fact. There is no argument for assigning him to any committee at all, as Chair or otherwise.

He spoke at the McCain convention! (0.00 / 0)
Let the rethugs award him with a vice chair somewhere. 'nuff said.

[ Parent ]
Evidence... (0.00 / 0)
Is there some evidence, printed or anecdotal, that is saying they MAY let him stay on... most of the stuff I saw pre-conventions was Reid pretty much saying he was gone.

Hmm (0.00 / 0)
Well Maybe it wasn't read who said it, although I would swear I read it...    

Interesting Salon Article.


[ Parent ]
Wasn't it Iieberman (0.00 / 0)
that Obama pulled aside in the Senate back in the summer and had a quiet but pointed conversation in the corner of the Senate out of earshot of others?

I think it was.

If so, I can only hope that messages were delivered at that time, and continue to quietly be delivered, that have long since put the little toad on notice of what the consequences will be for what he has done.


There has to be a line (4.00 / 4)
that Democrats don't cross. And Joe crossed it.  If Reid doesn't have the balls to enforce some party discipline, then we need to get a Senator Majority Leader that can actually lead.  

You're right, and that's the only good argument I've heard in this thread, (0.00 / 0)
but on the other hand we're going to have 57 or 58 seats, and be constantly struggling to get to 60.  Throwing away Lieberman's vote on multiple issues has consequences.  Like, real policy consequences, because in most cases we'll have to water down the bill far more to get Specter's support than we would to keep Lieberman's.   Not to mention there's only about four GOP moderates left (Specter Snowe Collins... Martinez?  Voinovich?  Coleman?).

So tossing Lieberman's vote aside significantly lessens our ability to pass real legislation.  Which is presumably the reason we care about the Senate in the first place, right?


[ Parent ]
an honest question: (4.00 / 1)
can someone break down for me the types of issues on which Lieberman votes with progressives and the types on which he doesn't?  Like would he support homeowner relief?  I know he won't oppose the war with Afghanistan, but would he support or outwardly oppose attempts to shift the war from Iraq to Afghanistan?  Would he support hate crimes legislation to help disempowered groups like LGBT people, Black people, etc.?  Etc.  These are just examples - I'm not interested in the specifics as much as what the 80% is that he can be sort of counted on (at least for a vote) and what the 20% is that he's going to thoroughly sabotuage.

[ Parent ]
Um, I can try. (0.00 / 0)
I haven't followed his career ultra-closely, but my impression is that he's with us on any vote in the following areas: women's rights, LGBT, environment, labor, minorities, taxes and spending, economy, energy, education.

He might not be with us on health care (Pharma is headquartered in CT), or anything in the Middle East: Iraq Iran Israel Palestine Afghanistan Pakistan.

In major upcoming legislative battles on climate change, alternative energy, the budget, the tax code, and card check, he would be with us.  At least, if the past is any guide he would be.


[ Parent ]
Question (0.00 / 0)
So is the argument that he's with us on these issues, but will begin to vote against his own positions and interests on those issues just to punish the Democrats if we don't go sufficiently out of our way to be friendly to him?

[ Parent ]
I wouldn't put it past him (0.00 / 0)
He is that much of a sore loser crybaby.

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Yes. (4.00 / 1)
He's a politician.  We should not assume he votes on any given issue out of durable conviction.  His only position or interest is pro-Lieberman.

I don't think he'd actually flip to pro-life, but on all the marginal issues that actually come up for votes -- card check, parental consent, a new energy plan, almost anything else that Democrats could care to pass -- he could come up with a bullshit hitherto unforeseen conscientious objection.  He's not running again in 2012, so there's no further check from the voters on his behavior.  He can literally do whatever he wants.  He can't actually do that, because he needs political "credibility" to be relevant and powerful; if he goes into Zell Miller crazy talk, he gets ignored by the press and the powerful and written off as the crazy auntie.  But he can certainly cause trouble on cloture votes if he cared to, and his prior "convictions" will be little obstacle.


[ Parent ]
Let's give Olympia Snowe a chair instead! (0.00 / 0)
Problem solved.

[ Parent ]
If she'd take it, I'd much rather do that. (0.00 / 0)
I don't think it's a particularly likely scenario, but I do prefer it to keeping Lieberman.

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Pot vs Kettle (0.00 / 0)
The fact that David Sirota called someone else a media whore is chock full of irony.

I agree with you whole heartedly, but (0.00 / 0)
My question is what your response will be when you are betrayed on this point.

Typically... (0.00 / 0)
Typically, you unseat a committee chair by having someone else, more senior in the caucus, make a claim to the seat during the organizing period after election and before the new congress comes in.  Lieberman was first elected in 1988, so the question is who would want Government Ops, who might be as or more senior?  

There will be a number of committee chairs changes this year, and perhaps a Majority Leader change, as on several occassions, Reid has said he didn't want to serve after 2009, so Lieberman's position needs to be considered as part of this mix.  

We know Biden will (hopefully) be out of the Senate, so Foreign Affairs will be in need of a new chair.  We don't know the status of Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd, Education, health and Appropriations, but both will want a next senior Democrate backing them up with the right to succeed.  Should Reid resign the Majority Leader position, and support Hillary Clinton to follow him, I would not be surprised if Reid himself took Government Operations, looking to retire from the Senate in two years.  Kerry will probably get Foreign Relations -- I don't know about Kennedy and Byrd's chairs.  Unlike other chairmanships, Majority Leader does not depend on seniority -- it is about who can finess the consensus necessary to move the agenda.

Jay Rockefeller actually has more seniority than Lieberman, and his committee, Intelligence, is supposed to rotate -- he could easily be the candidate to claim Lieberman's committee.  So thinking about it is chess within the obscure rules of seniority -- and unlike Republicans, Democrats are pretty true to seniority.  

Democrats have an interesting problem -- we have this group of Senators well into 4th terms, elected in the 80's or earlier, for the most part -- but then we didn't elect that many in the 90's who stayed, won second and third terms and all, but we have huge classes from 2006, and I assume 2008 with very strong leadership skills.  Potentially a third of our Democratic Senators will be first termers.

What should be appreciated, of course is that Feingold of Wisconsin, class of 92 is just on the cusp of being sufficently senior to getting a chairmanship.    


Akaka is on Governmental Affairs already, and is more senior. (0.00 / 0)
He could claim Gov Affairs, and relinquish Veterans Affairs to Lieberman, perhaps.  Of course, Lieberman would have to be assigned to Obama's seat on Veterans Affairs first.

[ Parent ]
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