November 26, 2006
For years to come many a student of American history will dwell, I suspect, with special delight on a remarkable consequence of the congressional elections recently concluded, namely the "underdog's triumph" that Connecticut's Senator Joseph I. Lieberman scored, thanks to which the decision is now his to make as to whether the U. S. Senate will be controlled by the Democratic or by the Republican party in 2007 and 2008. In the November 15th issue of the New York Times reporter Mark Leibovitch told the story with a wit that Mark Twain, with a twinkle in his eye, would surely have relished. I reprint the report here, only slightly abridged.
*****Senator Joseph I. Lieberman strode into a Democratic caucus gathering like he owned the place or, at the very least, like someone who is a flight risk and could leave at any minute, taking the Democrats' new majority with him.
Enter, Pariah: Now It's Hugs for Lieberman
By Mark Leibovitch
In other words, everyone was extra-special nice to the wayward Democrat on Tuesday.
"It was all very warm, lots of hugs, high-fives, that kind of stuff, " said Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado.
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon marveled, "One senator after another kept coming up and shaking his hand."
And Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas noted, "I gave him a hug and a kiss."
Mr. Lieberman received a standing ovation at a caucus luncheon after Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who is poised to become the majority leader, declared, "We're all family."
All of which is particularly touching in light of recent history. It was after all just three months ago that Mr. Lieberman became something of a party pariah after losing the Democratic primary in Connecticut but continuing his re-election bid as an Independent.
Mr. Lieberman won re-election last week without help from most of his Democratic Senate colleagues, who backed Ned Lamont, his Democratic rival, over their "good friend Joe Lieberman."
These would be many of the same good friends "who were happy to leave my dad by the side of the road," as Mr. Lieberman's son, Matthew, put it in an election night speech. These, presumably, would include "friends" like Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, all Lamont supporters.
"It's clear that the Democrats need him at this point more than he needs them," said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, whom Mr. Lieberman genuinely does consider a close friend. "How sweet is this?"
Indeed, it is hard to imagine how Mr. Lieberman could have emerged better from last week's election. He was re-elected comfortably, and the Democratic Party he still belongs to is now in the majority, assuring him the chairmanship of the powerful Homeland Security Committee.
Yet that majority is slim enough, 51 to 49, to turn Mr. Lieberman into arguably the Senate's most influential member. If he defects, the Senate would effectively be under Republican control because Vice-President Dick Cheney would cast tie-breaking votes.
"It was very painful to him to have all these people he thought were hisfriends embrace his opponent," Ms. Collins said, "they just threw him overboard. But now, not only is he reelected resoundingly, but he is also the key to which party controls the Senate."
Mr. Lieberman's situation underscores the precarious calculus of political friendships. People close to him say he remains miffed, if not bitter, about what he considers the betrayal of allies who supported an unknown, untested and unfamiliar candidate.
In recent months, Mr. Lieberman has frequently invoked the Harry Truman maxim that if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.
Mr. Lieberman has suggested he has felt especially wounded by Mr. Dodd, Connecticut's senior senator, with whom he had shared a close bond since arriving in the Senate in 1989. Mr. Dodd had supported Mr. Lieberman in the primary, but endorsed Mr. Lamont after he won. Mr. Dodd's appearance with Mr. Lamont at a Democratic "unity" rally and in a campaign commercial infuriated Mr. Lieberman, friends said.
Mr. Dodd said in a brief interview Tuesday, "We all make decisions, and those decisions have consequences."
Earlier in the day, he attended a Capitol Hill news conference that drew every Democrat in Connecticut's congressional delegation except Mr. Lieberman.
Friends said the strains between Mr. Lieberman and his Democratic colleagues show.
"It will take a little time for the room to really warrn up from both ends," said Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, one of the few Senate Democrats who supported Mr. Lieberman in his general election campaign. "I would not be forthright if I didn't say there was some healing and work that has to be done."
During the campaign, Mr. Lieberman said repeatedly that he would continue to vote with the Democratic caucus, but there were calls from the left for the Democratic leadership to strip him of his seniority and committee assignments if he won.
But as Mr. Lieberman claimed a healthy lead in the polls, Mr. Reid reached out to him. Over time, Mr. Reid's and other Democratic leaders' support for Mr. Lamont became half-hearted, or non-existent, according to Mr. Lamont's campaign.
Mr. Lieberman classifies himself as an "independent Democrat" and has said that recent events left him feeling "liberated" and "unshackled" ....
He stirred up more anxiety Sunday, when in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," he refused to rule out becoming a Republican (while adding, "I hope I don't get to that point").
In brief remarks to reporters Tuesday, Mr. Lieberman said he had refused to rule out switching parties largely because Tim Russert, the show's host, "kept pressing me on it."
But Mr. Lieberman also said that while "most of my vote clearly came from independents and Republicans" in Connecticut, "it's fair to say that I couldn't have won without Democratic support."
Mr. Lieberman restated that it was possible he could join Senate Republicans, but he added, "I'm not going to threaten on every issue to leave the caucus."
Clearly, friends say, he is relishing his sudden ascent from Democratic reject in Connecticut to Senate king-maker in Washington. "He is just sitting there in the catbird seat, and it must be deliciousfor him, " Ms. Collins said.
Mr. Lieberman was asked Tuesday if he viewed his position as similar to a swing vote on the Supreme Court, a role often played by former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor or Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. The parallel had not occurred to him, Mr. Lieberman replied, but he considered it "a complimentary analogy."
He beamed as he said this, as he did for much of the day.