For all of Tuesdays talk of Democrats reconciling with their wayward colleague, Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID), Senators said they will keep a close eye on the Connecticut Members party loyalty as he rejoins their caucus after his harsh criticism of President-elect Barack Obamas candidacy.
People will judge him as he goes forward, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said. Theres no list of rules that hes got to follow. Hes got to figure that out. I think people will be watching.
Casey and other Senators said they would be particularly interested in Liebermans stewardship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and how he handles overseeing an administration that he vigorously campaigned against as he stumped for his chosen presidential nominee, Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).
Were all going to be paying close attention to that, as we would any kind of oversight, Casey said. He acknowledged that it was a struggle for him to vote in favor of Lieberman keeping the Homeland Security gavel when Democrats decided Tuesday to let him retain that post while stripping him of his membership on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
The 42-13 vote in the Members-only meeting also effectively removed Lieberman as chairman of Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Private Sector and Consumer Solutions to Global Warming and Wildlife Protection. He will continue to serve as chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Airland.
Senators said Lieberman did not give many specifics about how he would run the Homeland Security Committee or how he would vote on a variety of issues. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who led the discussion in the Democratic Conference, said Lieberman raised the oversight issue by indicating that he intends to do it very constructively and positively.
One Democratic Senator said Liebermans promise to the caucus was not explicit, but he told them that they would not regret letting him remain at the helm of the full committee.
Even Senators who said they were satisfied that Lieberman would conduct committee business appropriately expressed some doubt.
I do not believe that will be an issue, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said. But, she added, I could be wrong.
Lieberman was vague with reporters when asked about his plans for the Homeland Security panel. I think my colleagues voted overwhelmingly to go forward in a positive way, which is exactly the way that I intend to go forward, he said.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declined to answer what he and the Democratic Conference now expected of Lieberman, saying he wanted to move forward with a broad new Democratic agenda in the 111th Congress.
Beyond concerns that Lieberman might use the Homeland Security panel for frivolous investigations of the Obama administration, Senators said letting Lieberman keep his full committee chairmanship as well as letting him remain in the Democratic Conference was conditioned on Liebermans renewed sense of loyalty to the party.
Thats inherent in the offer that was made, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said. It was, Welcome back. Its not a partial welcome. These are the conditions under which youre welcome back. We obviously expect his full support for the Democratic agenda.