Precedent

I posted yesterday about the prudence of acceding to Lieberman’s demands, drawing a contrast to what might have happened in the Bush Administration. Well, it turns out it did.

One passage that has been overlooked, however, concerns the debate within the Bush Administration about what to do with Jim Jeffords, whom we might think of as the Republicans’ Joe Lieberman. Jeffords threatened to leave the caucus, giving the Democrats control over the Senate, unless Bush acceeded to his demand for greater special education funding (which Bush had promised and remains the right thing to do).

Obviously, the Bush people were livid. It was Cheney who persuaded the President not to back down, and the result was Jeffords bolting to the Democrats. Like so much else about Cheney, his advice was bad. Had 9/11 not occurred, it could have kept Bush from unified control of Congress for the remainder of his term.

But the interesting position, as Gellman describes it, was taken by Karl Rove, who said something to the effect of: “give him what he wants now, and then we will screw him at a more opportune time.” What Rove meant by that, or what he was thinking, is not mentioned, mainly because it became moot.

And as Matt Yglesias adds, Jeffords not only switched, but became a reliably progressive vote. It would seem quite plausible that had Lieberman been shown the door, the pique might have expanded his conservative proclivities beyond the realm of foreign policy. Instead, it’s probable that Lieberman will vote Democratic as he always has on key items of Obama’s agenda. It’s less probable that Jim Martin pulls of an upset and Franken wins the Minnesota recount, but even still, sitting at 58 isn’t such a bad thing.

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