Media ignore Lieberman's pledge not to switch parties

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

Several media outlets, including The Politico, ABCNews.com, Fox News' Special Report and The Washington Times, reported on Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's (CT) statement in the March 5 issue of Time magazine that there is a "very remote possibility" he will stop caucusing with Senate Democrats, but failed to note Lieberman's repeated pre-election promises to the voters of Connecticut that he would caucus with Democrats. Additionally, The Politico and Special Report inaccurately reported that Lieberman's decision to caucus with the other party would "give control of the [Senate] back to the Republicans." In fact, in order to change the makeup of committees and their chairmen, as well as the president pro tempore, the Republicans would have to pass new organizing rules, which could be filibustered by the Democrats.

In a February 22 article, Editor & Publisher reported that Lieberman is quoted in the March 5 issue of Time acknowledging "a remote possibility" that he will "jump[] to the Republican side." But as blogger Greg Sargent noted, on October 3, 2006, The Empire Zone, The New York Times' weblog about politics in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, quoted Lieberman promising: "I've given my word that's what I intend to do. I am going to caucus with the Democrats." Prior to his August 2006 loss in the Democratic primary but while collecting signatures for his independent bid, Lieberman told New York Magazine: "I've been a Democrat for 40 years, I'll die a Democrat, I'll probably be a Democrat after my death, I may still be voting Democrat in some cities in Connecticut postmortem." Sargent compiled additional examples of Lieberman or his communications staff promising that he would caucus with the Democrats. Further, in October 2006, blogger spazeboy posted a video in which Lieberman is asked the question: "Would you unequivocally ... caucus with the Democrats?" Lieberman responded: "I've said that 1,200 times." When asked to clarify with a "yes or no" answer, Lieberman responded: "Yes. Yes."

As The Washington Post reported on January 5, Republicans would not be able to automatically reorganize the Senate if Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) were replaced with a Republican, effectively the same scenario as Lieberman caucusing with the Republicans:

Republican leaders decided not to seek special language spelling out the terms of a transition in case of a power shift -- say, if Johnson vacates his post and his state's GOP governor appoints a Republican to replace him. Under that scenario, power would effectively shift to Republicans, because Cheney would provide the tiebreaking 51st vote. But for Republicans to take parliamentary control, the Senate would have to vote for new organizational rules, a move Democrats could filibuster.

A similar scenario unfolded in January 2001, when a 50-50 Senate convened. In 2001, Democrats demanded a "kick-out clause" in organizing negotiations that would automatically scrap agreements on committee ratios and funding levels and force new organizational rules. But Republicans decided this month against a confrontation that would come from demanding a similar clause.

"Nobody over here talked about that at all," said Don Stewart, spokesman for McConnell.

Daily Kos diarist alba recently noted the section in the 107th Congress' (2001-2003) Senate organizing rules S.R. 8, which constituted the "kick-out clause":

[I]f at any time during the 107th Congress either party attains a majority of the whole number of Senators, then each committee ratio shall be adjusted to reflect the ratio of the parties in the Senate, and the provisions of this resolution shall have no further effect, except that the members appointed by the two Leaders, pursuant to this resolution, shall no longer be members of the committees, and the committee chairmanships shall be held by the party which has attained a majority of the whole number of Senators.

As alba further noted, the resolutions for the current Senate's organizing rules contain no such provision.

Washington Post columnist Al Kamen noted that in the 83rd Congress (1953-1955), Republicans started with a one-vote majority, but because of the deaths of Republican senators, Democrats briefly had a two-vote advantage -- and yet control did not change. Kamen noted that Senate associate historian Donald A. Ritchie said that even with the two-vote advantage, there was " 'no way the Democrats could have claimed a majority ... because the Republicans could have blocked them' with a filibuster, and in the Senate, most everything can be filibustered -- even by the minority."

From the article in the March 5 edition of Time:

The Democrats' 2000 candidate for Vice President is the only party member in the Senate supporting President Bush's Iraq policy and says he is "very troubled about the direction the party is heading on foreign policy generally." With his re-election in November, many old allies now rue abandoning him after he lost the Connecticut Democratic primary to Ned Lamont last August. Both sides concede that bitterness remains. "It's still a little painful and awkward," says the majority whip, Dick Durbin, "but I think the caucus counts him as a friend."

Lieberman says leaving the Democratic Party is a "very remote possibility." But even that slight ambiguity -- and all his cross-aisle flirtation -- has proved more than enough to position Lieberman as the Senate's one-man tipping point. If he were to jump ship, the ensuing shift of power to Republicans would scramble the politics of the war in Iraq, undercut the Democrats' national agenda and potentially weaken their hopes for the White House in 2008. Those stakes are high enough to give Lieberman leverage with both parties no matter how slim the chance of his crossing the aisle. Which means Senate leaders aren't worrying only about whether Joe Lieberman will switch parties. They're wondering what, if anything, he plans to do with the power that comes from keeping that possibility alive.

From the February 22 article in The Politico:

He suggested, however, that the forthcoming showdown over new funding could be a deciding factor that would lure him to the Republican Party.

"I hope we don't get to that point," Lieberman said. "That's about all I will say on it today. That would hurt."

Republicans have long targeted Lieberman to switch -- a move that would give them control of the Senate. And Time magazine is set to report Friday that there is a "remote" chance Lieberman would join the GOP.

From the February 22 ABCNews.com blog post:

While the website Politico.com has the blaring, saucy, and eye-catching headline "Breaking News: Lieberman says war vote could prompt party switch," the statement by Lieberman that he won't rule out a party switch does not signify that he is packing his bags and heading across the aisle in the Senate.

A Lieberman staffer told ABC today, "Lieberman's words speak for themselves. It is a very remote possibility. Senator Lieberman has no desire to change parties. He has no desire to change parties."

Not making a "Sherman statement" (as Al Gore would say in also not closing the door on his unlikely 2008 Presidential run) is not a new tactic for Lieberman. He told Time [sic] Russert on "Meet the Press" back in November after the mid-term election that he wouldn't rule out changing parties as Vermont Republican Jim Jeffords had done in 2001 when he became an Independent, temporarily giving Democrats control of the Senate.

From the February 22 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

HUME: Thanks, Molly. Thanks very much. There are signs tonight that Senator Joe Lieberman might reconsider his decision to remain a Democrat. Lieberman told the newspaper The Politico that while he has no immediate plans to switch parties, the Democrats' opposition to funding the war in Iraq, a war Lieberman supports, could change his mind.

If Lieberman did switch, the Senate would be split 50-50 between the two parties, and Vice President [Dick] Cheney would cast the tie-breaking vote to give control of the chamber back to the Republicans.

From the February 23 Washington Times column "Inside Politics":

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent but a member of the Democratic caucus, last month told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada that he had stopped attending the weekly Democratic lunch because he didn't feel comfortable discussing Iraq there, Time magazine reports in its issue out today.

Mr. Reid offered to hold those discussions at another time, Time reporter Massimo Calabresi said, and "Lieberman has started attending again."

Republicans, the magazine says, are "courting him" and Mr. Lieberman "has been indulging in some fairly immodest political footsie." Mr. Lieberman said a party switch is "a remote possibility," and that he keeps in touch with Bush aide Stephen J. Hadley "every week or two."

The Time article was summarized yesterday at the Web site of Editor & Publisher magazine, www.editorandpublisher.com.

Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel, The Washington Times, Time Magazine, The Politico, ABCNews.com
Person
Brit Hume
Show/Publication
Special Report with Brit Hume
Stories/Interests
2006 Elections
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