Will Lieberman lose if Democrats win?

If Senate Democrats win big in November, Joe Lieberman may be the biggest loser.

By Steve Benen

Published April 14, 2008 6:30PM (EDT)

At this point, Democrats everywhere are pretty familiar with the Senate caucus' "Lieberman Problem." Aside from his problematic votes and rhetoric, Joe Lieberman wants, apparently more than just about everything, to be the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. If Harry Reid denied him the gavel, Lieberman would leave the party, and create a 50-50 split in the chamber.

Of course, if Senate Democrats have a good year, and it appears that they will, that won't be a problem come 2009. Bob Novak reports that Lieberman may lose big if Democrats win big.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman's friends are certain that if Democrats expand their one-vote Senate edge in this year's elections, they will kick him out of the Senate Democratic caucus and, therefore, oust him as Homeland Security Committee chairman.

Lieberman risked the usual punishment of ejection from the party caucus when he endorsed Republican Sen. John McCain for president and actively campaigned for him. But with Democrats in a Senate majority of only 51 to 49, they would lose control if Lieberman defected to the Republicans.

I've heard competing stories about this, but I haven't heard that Dems would kick Lieberman out of the caucus altogether. It seems far more likely that Reid would stop by Lieberman's office and say, "Joe, I'm afraid this committee is too important; I've decided to put a Democrat in the chairman's seat." If Lieberman threatens to bolt, and Reid has a comfortable majority, the ultimatums probably won't carry much weight.

But there's always been one thing I don't understand about Lieberman's motivations: why does he want that chairmanship so much in the first place?

In 2006, seeking re-election, Lieberman said this committee was his top priority, and he was desperate to return to the Senate so he could wield the gavel. And now that he has the authority he sought, he's decided not to conduct any real oversight at all.

He seems to have desperately sought a chairman's gavel just for the sake of having it -- Lieberman wanted power he had no intention of using. Instead of a Senate committee that functions as it should, Lieberman just treads water, using his gavel as a flotation device.

What's more, Lieberman's neglect is made all the more obvious by the performance of Rep. Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform -- Lieberman's House counterpart -- who uses the committee's oversight powers as a successful watchdog should.

Steve Benen

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