Two senators, two approaches

Republican Arlen Specter pushes back against the White House. Democrat Joe Lieberman doesn't.

By Tim Grieve
March 23, 2006 7:22PM (UTC)
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Call it a Tale of Two Senators.

In an interview with the Associated Press Wednesday, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter was sharply critical of the Bush administration's take-no-prisoners approach to warrantless spying. "They want to do just as they please, for as long as they can get away with it," Specter said. "I think what is going on now without congressional intervention or judicial intervention is just plain wrong."


While Pat Roberts' Senate Intelligence Committee has swept the spying program under the rug, killing calls for an investigation by creating a subcommittee to get more briefings and proposing legislation to make the program legal, Specter's Judiciary Committee has actually held a hearing and taken testimony from the attorney general. Now the Judiciary Committee will have jurisdiction over the legislation that has come out of the Intelligence Committee as well as a bill Specter is pushing that would require the administration to put the program before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for review. Specter says he thinks his approach will prevail -- largely because he should have the support of Democratic senators.

Or at least some of them. If the Bush administration can count on one Democrat to cover its back when times are tough, that man is Connecticut's Joe Lieberman. Time and again over the last couple of years, Lieberman has served as a Bush administration apologist -- if only he thought apologizing were necessary. Lieberman voted to confirm John G. Roberts. He voted to confirm Samuel Alito. When Condoleezza Rice was up for confirmation, he scolded Democrats who might vote against her. "In times like these it is important that the world not only knows that this secretary of state has the ear of the president, but that she has -- if you will allow me to put it this way -- America's heart." In a Wall Street Journal essay in November, Lieberman touted the "real progress" being made in Iraq and told Democrats and Republicans that they'd better get in line behind the president. "I am disappointed by Democrats who are more focused on how President Bush took America into the war in Iraq almost three years ago, and by Republicans who are more worried about whether the war will bring them down in next November's elections, than they are concerned about how we continue the progress in Iraq in the months and years ahead," Lieberman wrote.

And in a speech in December, Lieberman went after members of his own party who criticize the president while expressing hope that Republicans would understand that Democrats can be trusted to help support the war. "It is time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be commander-in-chief for three more critical years, and that in matters of war we undermine Presidential credibility at our nation's peril," Lieberman said. "It is time for Republicans in the White House and Congress who distrust Democrats to acknowledge that greater Democratic involvement and support in the war in Iraq is critical to rebuilding the support of the American people that is essential to our success in that war."


Lieberman appeared on Hartford Courant columnist Colin McEnroe's radio show this week, apparently with the aim of pushing back against a column McEnroe wrote in which he said he'd vote for Lieberman's primary challenger if he had to make the choice today. And for all the talk about how whiny kids grow up to be conservatives, well, maybe the talk is right.

In a remarkable bit of understatement, McEnroe said he thought Lieberman had "drifted" toward the Bush administration. Lieberman called the charge "ridiculous and unfair." McEnroe quoted Lieberman as saying that Democrats need to stop undermining Bush's credibility. Lieberman said he had been taken out of context. "You have this line [in your column] saying that I've come to a point where I'm saying that those who do not parrot my support of the war are unpatriotic, and then you take totally out of context something that I said in a speech that I gave last December," Lieberman said. Lieberman suggested that McEnroe hadn't read the whole speech, and that he might have gotten the snippet he used "from the bloggers, who love to do this." McEnroe said he'd gotten it from the New York Times. Lieberman said: "That's just as bad."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Arlen Specter D-pa. Joe Lieberman