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Lieberman Will Go His Own Way

Democrats Grouse but Can't Stop the Connecticut Independent From Breaking With Their Party

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Joe Lieberman has not made many friends in the past few years. The retiring Independent has frustrated some Democrats recently by meeting with Republican candidates for his Senate seat, as well as GOP presidential contenders. Because the party holds such a tenuous majority in the chamber, some feel they can’t punish him.

Sen. Joe Lieberman is chafing Democrats with his opposition to President Barack Obama’s jobs bill and his flirtation with Republican presidential and Senate candidates. But with the Connecticut Independent retiring and Senate Democrats — with whom he caucuses — holding a slim 53-seat majority, there’s little they can do to rein him in.

They know it, and he seems to know it, too.

“Look, we have 53 Democrats in the Senate and need, at minimum, seven Republicans to join us to overcome incessant filibusters,” a senior Democratic Senate aide said. “Regardless of how Sen. Lieberman votes, the fact remains that we need Republican support to do anything and far too often we are left without it.”

Perhaps most disconcerting to Democrats have been Lieberman’s recent discussions with his state’s 2010 GOP Senate nominee, former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon,  and former Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays (R), a longtime friend, to discuss their campaigns to capture his Senate seat in 2012.

With Democrats defending 23 seats next year — many of them vulnerable — the party’s majority appears seriously threatened. The party certainly needs to keep Lieberman’s blue state in the Democratic fold to retain its grip on power.

During a brief telephone interview, Lieberman said the two Republicans asked to talk to him. He said he would be happy to hold similar discussions with the
Democratic candidates in the race if they request it; he said they have not. But the Senator said he wouldn’t apologize for the meetings, emphasizing that he was elected as an Independent in 2006 and that he would continue to conduct himself as such.

“My ultimate loyalty is to do what’s right for the country. I don’t mean that to be self-righteous; I just think that’s what my job is,” Lieberman said.

The Senator said he is neutral in both the Connecticut Senate race and the presidential race, but he did not exclude the possibility of endorsing a Republican in one or both races. He said he has not decided whether he’ll endorse in either race nor which party’s candidates he’ll support.

Lieberman defended his voting record, noting that he recently joined with all  the other members of the Democratic Conference to end a GOP filibuster of Obama’s jobs bill and that he pushed aggressively to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that barred gays from serving openly in the military since 1993.

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