Don't Misread The Lieberman Tea Leaves
by Josh Orton, Thu Nov 06, 2008 at 10:27:35 AM EST
As Jonathan notes below, Reid wouldn't find himself out on a limb if he stripped Lieberman of his chairmanship.
"No decisions have been made," Reid said, in a statement sent to us by his office. "While I understand that Senator Lieberman has voted with Democrats a majority of the time, his comments and actions have raised serious concerns among many in our Caucus."
"I expect there to be additional discussions in the days to come," Reid continued, "and Senator Lieberman and I will speak to our Caucus in two weeks to discuss further steps."
But to understand what's in motion, we've got to read carefully.
Earlier in the year, when asked about Lieberman's position in the caucus, Reid made statements like this (from June 5th):
"I think everybody should understand that Joe Lieberman has made a decision on issues relating to the war. And he's decided to back John McCain. But Joe Lieberman is an important vote for this caucus."
Then as Lieberman's attacks on Obama increased (and after Lieberman spoke at the GOP convention), Reid and his people started to indicate that consequences for Lieberman were possible, but wouldn't be examined until after the election:
Jim Manley, another Reid aide, told The Hill newspaper that "it's likely" the Democratic caucus will gather after the elections to determine a course on Lieberman.
But where Reid's statements about Lieberman used to imply no coming consequences, i.e. 'Joe's gone off the reservations sometimes, but...' - today's statement runs in the opposite direction: 'Joe's with us on some things, but....' Reid is obviously implying that Lieberman will be punished; just because the details weren't announced today doesn't mean nothing will happen. Rather, Reid is likely working through the Senate mechanisms behind-the-scenes: walking through the complex process of Chairmanship 'musical chairs' that Ari describes here, estimating how many Dems we'll actually have in our caucus, and speaking with all of Lieberman's allies in the Dem caucus so no one goes off the reservation when a decision is announced.
So don't misread the reality - Lieberman has very little leverage in this situation and nowhere to go. He angered Obama and Reid during the campaign, and his presidential candidate lost. So Reid is taking his time, but that shouldn't be misread as indecisiveness or inaction. It just proves how little power Lieberman now has.
Update [2008-11-6 16:7:53 by Josh Orton]: A little detail from today's meeting:
Bolstered by a newly expanded majority, Harry Reid met with Joe Lieberman on Thursday to sketch out the conditions by which the Connecticut independent could continue to caucus with Senate Democrats. But Lieberman did not accept Reid's initial offers, leaving his future in the caucus uncertain, and potentially setting off a campaign to pressure the Democratic steering committee to decide Lieberman's fate.
Reid offered Lieberman a deal to step down as chairman of the homeland security committee but take over the reins of another subcommittee, likely overseeing economic or small business issues officials said.
Look, Lieberman is flopping around like a fish out of water. In the end, he has nowhere to go.