Pelosi: Lieberman Could be Toast

Friday, August 15th, 2008

James Besser in Washington

Sen. Joe Lieberman is riding high as a top surrogate for his pal John McCain, but he could face rough going in the Senate next year if the Democrats pick up as many seats on November 4 as most experts predict.

This week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued the strongest-yet warning to the former Democrat – not that Lieberman seems very interested in the opinions of his old colleagues.

Pelosi was infuriated by recent Lieberman comments that seemed to impugn the patriotism of presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

Lieberman, in a Pennsylvania interview, said this year’s election is really a choice between “one candidate, John McCain, who has always put his country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate that has not.”

That angered many Democrats, who are already inclined to rage at their former partisan colleague, and Pelosi, speaking on a California radio program, said publicly what many Democrats have been saying privately: if the Dems build up their majority in the Senate, Lieberman could be toast as far as his chairmanship of the critical Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee is concerned.

Lieberman has been an independent since he lost a reelection primary in 2006, but he caucuses with the Democrats, who treat him with extreme caution because they don’t want to jeopardize their razor-thin partisan edge in the Senate.

“The Democrats in the Senate are in a tough spot,” Pelosi said. “They have 51 votes. Joe Lieberman organizes with them. In 85 days or something, they will have five more Democrats. They won’t need him to make the majority. And it will be interesting to see what the leadership in the Senate, the Democratic leadership in the Senate, does at that point in terms of Joe Lieberman’s chairmanship of his committee.”

Pelosi, of course, doesn’t make the rules for the Senate Democratic caucus, but she is an influential party leader who probably accurately reflects widespread Party sentiment about Lieberman.

Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn said Lieberman, if he gets the heave-ho from the Dems, could always remain an independent and caucus with the Republicans – or go all the way and join the GOP, although his chairmanship would be history.

And the whole scenario depends on big gains for the Democrats on Election Day; if the partisan balance remains anywhere close to the current 51-49 margin, Lieberman may still get treated with kid gloves no matter how angry he makes his former Democratic colleagues.

Meanwhile, speculation continues that Lieberman is still on John McCain’s short list for vice president – part of a wave of vice presidential speculation meant mostly to provide fodder for pundits who are finding the political pickings slim in the dog days of August.

But McCain and Lieberman have a strong personal affinity, which could be a factor in the presumptive nominee’s choice, and picking Lieberman would be a bold move that could bolster McCain’s reputation as someone who isn’t constrained by party lines.

But McCain’s recent trial balloon suggesting he might pick someone who supports abortion rights – like Lieberman – prompted a furious reaction from many on the Christian right, a bloc he needs to turn out in large numbers if he wants to beat Obama.

That, political handicappers say, lengthens the odds against a Lieberman nomination – although in this topsy-turvy election year, anything is possible.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.