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.

Lieberchange

So it appears as though the Dems are going to give Joe Lieberman the equivalent strongly worded letter, permitting him to hold his Chairmanship of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, while stripping him of spots on the Environment and Public Works and Armed Services Committees. What’s more, the impetus for keeping him around allegedly comes from Obama.

For those doubting the veracity of Obama’s claim to “Change”, this should pretty much put that to rest. If Lieberman had pulled this sort of stunt with Bush, Dick Cheney would have had so systematically marginalized him, Lieberman would have been lucky to chair the Committee on Kosher Deli Affairs and Kvetching.  But Obama isn’t Bush. Lieberman’s vote will be vital on major Democratic reform initiatives like health care and climate change. So yes, Lieberman has been a lunatic with respect to foreign policy, and yes, he was out of line criticizing Obama, but neither of those particularly matter at this point. The SOFA is close to being finalized, Lieberman can’t singlehandedly push war with Iran, and Obama won the election. So there’s no sense, I suppose, in biting your nose to spite your face.

Say No to Joe

Joe Lieberman has been a truly consummate schmuck over the past two years, transmogrifying from liberal-hawk cum Independent to fear mongering demagogue. Now that his McCain gambit has failed and Democrats possess a majority in the Senate without him, there’s the question of what to do with Droopy Joe. He alleges he wants to stay in the Democrat’s caucus, but what this really means holding on his committee chairmanship. A lot of people have suggested stripping him of his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (I agree), so it’s worth looking into why doing so wouldn’t simply be a petty punitive measure:

The United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs has jurisdiction over matters related to the Department of Homeland Security and other homeland security concerns, as well as the functioning of the government itself, including the National Archives, budget and accounting measures other than appropriations, the Census, the federal civil service, the affairs of the District of Columbia, and the United States Postal Service. The committee’s name was formerly the United States Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, prior to homeland security being added to its responsibilities.

It sounds like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, but the key point is that the Committee has oversight powers over the Executive branch. Steve Benen theorizes:

As chairman of this committee for the last two years, Lieberman decided not to pursue any accusations of wrongdoing against the Bush administration. Lieberman’s House counterpart — Rep. Henry Waxman’s Oversight Committee — was a vigilant watchdog, holding hearings, issuing subpoenas, and launching multiple investigations. Lieberman preferred to let his committee do no real work at all. It was arguably the most pathetic display of this Congress.

And yet, now Lieberman acts as if keeping this chairmanship is the single most important part of his public life. Why would he be so desperate to keep the gavel of a committee he hasn’t used? I’ll let you in on a secret: he wants to start using the power of this committee against Obama.

It seems like there’s something to that, but I’m more inclined to agree with Ezra Klein:

Rather, Lieberman wants to keep his committee as a hedge against retribution. So long as he controls Governmental Affairs, he’s not the sort of guy Democrats want on a warpath against them. Elsewhere, they can take him seriously, or screw him over, largely as they please, which most would probably find a preferable alternative. But I basically side with the “kick him out” folks.

This should be blisteringly obvious to Harry Reid and I think it’s the more plausible explanation. Since it’s not likely impossible that the Democrats will get to 59 seats (though still a possibility), the demand for Lieberman is way down almost nil, and he’s really in no situation to be on the offensive. Even if Al Franken and Jim Martin manage to pull of victories 59 seats were still possible, the notion that 60 Democrats with Lieberman will prove an unshakable bloc is a bit fallacious, so there’s simply no reason to risk it: get rid of Joe.

Self Immolation

Here’s Joe Lieberman on Fox News defending the merits of John McCain’s plan to reduce the tax burden on the rich, despite a long career as Democrat voting for tax increases on the wealthy.

Here’s why this is a bad idea as far as tax policy is concerned, but I’m frankly a little surprised to see Lieberman out here still shilling for McCain. Shit, if folks like Charles Fried — that is, conservative Republicans — are not only endorsing Obama, but also asking to be removed from McCain’s list of advisers, shouldn’t Lieberman be jumping ship too?

Maybe Lieberman plans on retiring come 2012, but it’s going to an unpleasant four years in the Senate for Joe. By the way, is Joe Lieberman not clearly the most self-loathing Jew who hasn’t become a Jew for Jesus? (I’m Jewish).

Are They Joe-king

Not sure how I missed this yesterday, but apparently Joe Lieberman might be getting vetted as a possibility for McCain’s VP.

Top aides to Joseph Lieberman have reached out to former staffers in recent days with “substantive questions” about the issue areas they focused on while working for the Connecticut senator, according to a source close to Lieberman.

Clarine Nardi Riddle, Lieberman’s Chief of Staff, and Sherry Brown, a top district aide and his 2006 campaign manager, are working the phones and sending emails in an apparent attempt to compile a portfolio for the former Democratic vice-presidential nominee.

Without saying defnitively that the information-gathering was being done to share with McCain’s campaign, this source said “it would be unusual if not in the context of being vetted.”

Liebeman’s camp says “no comment”, but this would be a pretty bold gambit by McCain, who has lately eschewed his Maverickosityness in favor of party-line, neocon policies in order to win votes from actual Republicans. In addition to the danger this would pose among McCain’s base GOP voters, and especially evangelicals, this would also likely incite a near febrile rancor among liberals. From another article:

Others in the [Republican] party — including several veterans of President Bush’s past campaigns — say such a choice would be untenable and are dreading the prospect of what Lieberman, or perhaps even Ridge,would mean to a base that is already less than enthusiastic about McCain.

“Lieberman would blow things up,” said the American Conservative Union’s David Keene. “That would be like Obama picking some right-winger that agrees with him on one thing.”

Ultimately, if you’re running as a Republican, you need to have the support of Republicans. Obviously, if McCain were to pick Lieberman, most Republicans would still prefer McCain to Obama (in the same way that most Hilary supporters will vote for Obama), but it would a dangerous game that could undermine McCain’s recent efforts to convince Republicans he’s one of them.