- Jun 30, 2004
- Reaction score
WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 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.
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, Were 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. Liebermans 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.
Its 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 weeks 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 Senates 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 his friends embrace his opponent, Ms. Collins said. They just threw him overboard. But now, not only is he re-elected resoundingly, but he is also the key to which party controls the Senate.
Mr. Liebermans 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, Connecticuts 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. Dodds 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 Connecticuts 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 warm 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 didnt 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 polls, Mr. Reid reached out to him. Over time, Mr. Reids and other Democratic leaders support for Mr. Lamont became half-hearted, or nonexistent, according to Mr. Lamonts campaign.
Mr. Lieberman classifies himself as an independent Democrat and has said that recent events left him feeling liberated and unshackled, not exactly reassuring words to Democrats.
He stirred more anxiety Sunday, when in an interview on NBCs Meet the Press, he refused to rule out becoming a Republican (while adding, I hope I dont 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 shows 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, its fair to say that I couldnt have won without Democratic support.
Mr. Lieberman restated that it was possible he could join Senate Republicans, but he added, Im 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 kingmaker in Washington. He is just sitting there in the catbird seat, and it must be delicious for 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 OConnor 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.
David D. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting.