No Hammer on Lieberman Gavel, Yet

Posted November 6, 2008 at 1:26pm

Updated: 2:50 p.m.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declined to strip Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) of his Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chairmanship Thursday afternoon, but after the two met behind closed doors, Lieberman’s future remained uncertain.

“Today Senator Lieberman and I had the first of what I expect to be several conversations,” Reid said in a statement released by his office. “No decisions have been made. 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, and Senator Lieberman and I will speak to our caucus in two weeks to discuss further steps.”

Lieberman, whose status with Democrats has been shaky since he endorsed Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) for president, indicated that Reid presented him with several options to consider and that he would mull them over.

“I want to spend some time in the next few days thinking about what Sen. Reid and I discussed and what my options are at this point, and he promised me that he will do the same. And we will continue these conversations,” Lieberman said in a brief appearance in the Senate TV gallery. He declined to answer questions about what options Reid had presented him with.

Lieberman vaguely alluded to events that brought him to the brink of losing his chairmanship — his endorsement of McCain and his aggressive criticism of President-elect Obama’s candidacy.

“I decided in [this] election that partisanship should take a backseat to doing what, in this case, I believe was best for our country. But the election is over, and I completely agree with President-elect Obama that we must now unite to get our economy going again and to keep the American people safe,” Lieberman said. “That is exactly what I intend to do with my colleagues here in the Senate in support of our new president, and those are the standards I will use when considering the options that I have before me.”

Senate Democratic aides have suggested that Reid may force Lieberman to give up the chairmanship of the full committee, but allow him to continue chairing subcommittees on which he has seniority. It was unclear whether that was one of the options presented to Lieberman on Thursday afternoon.

Lieberman first ran afoul of his Senate Democratic colleagues for supporting the war in Iraq — a position that led to him losing the Connecticut Democratic Senate primary in 2006. However, Lieberman was re-elected as an Independent that year.

After endorsing McCain in the White House contest, Lieberman initially promised Senate Democrats that he would work on behalf of McCain, but not directly attack Obama. But he broke that pledge when he spoke at this year’s Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.

Reid and Lieberman met privately for 45 minutes, and staff was not permitted to attend, Reid’s spokesman Jim Manley said.

“They both brought different ideas on how to resolve the situation, but there was not agreement,” said Manley, who added that the issue is likely to be discussed at the Democrats’ regularly scheduled Tuesday luncheon on Nov. 18, during the lame-duck session.

It was unclear what Reid offered Lieberman, or whether the Majority Leader presented his colleague with an option to keep his chairmanship. A majority of Senate Democrats favor wresting the gavel from Lieberman, but doing so could prompt the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee to bolt the party. Lieberman has not ruled out joining the Republican ranks, and several leading GOP Senators have said they would embrace him in their Conference.

If Lieberman switched sides, Senate Democrats’ net gain from Tuesday’s election would be reduced from six to five. Of course, there are some Democrats who favor kicking Lieberman out of the Senate Democratic Conference, which would also reduce their majority count.

A Lieberman spokesman declined to elaborate on what options Reid presented Thursday or whether Lieberman argued that he should retain his chairmanship in the 111th Congress. Lieberman has said he understood the potential stakes when he endorsed McCain, and said he was comfortable with the ramifications that may come with that decision.