Lieberman Savoring Life On Both Sides of the Aisle

Now an independent, Joseph I. Lieberman, center, said he is enjoying his Senate term without
Now an independent, Joseph I. Lieberman, center, said he is enjoying his Senate term without "tribal partisanship," such as appearing at a news conference with Democrat John F. Kerry, left, and Republican John W. Warner. (By Susan Walsh -- Associated Press)
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By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 6, 2008

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) was running a few minutes late as he bounded onstage to cheers from environmental activists gathered in a park near the Senate chamber on Monday for a rally promoting climate-change legislation, which he is sponsoring with some of the Senate's staunchest liberals.

"I just said good things about you -- that's a true test," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told Lieberman, drawing laughter from a crowd that understood that not many Democrats have nice things to say about Lieberman these days.

Lieberman's outspoken advocacy for John McCain's GOP presidential candidacy crossed a line this week, prompting Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to corral the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee into pointed face-to-face discussions.

Lieberman went beyond simply promoting McCain's candidacy on Wednesday. He joined a conference call in which Republicans attacked Obama's position on Iran moments after the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee had delivered a foreign policy address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

On Monday, only a day before Obama would claim the delegates to become the Democratic nominee, Lieberman co-hosted an event with deep-pocketed donors who are part of the "McCain 2008 Victory Jewish Coalition" in a ballroom of the Grand Hyatt in Washington. According to one participant, Lieberman took Obama to task for his policies on Iran and Israel during the event, which drew fundraising pledges totaling $2 million for McCain and the Republican National Committee.

Topping all of this on the grievance list some party regulars are compiling on Lieberman is that he is open to taking a prominent speaking role at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., if McCain asks him to do so.

"I'm going to do everything I can to help him get elected. I'm going to do it my way," Lieberman said of McCain in an interview yesterday. "But there will be times when I'll comment, in fairness, on Senator Obama's positions."

All this activity has tied Democrats into knots. The party has a tenuous 51 to 49 advantage in the Senate, and cannot afford to see him caucus with Republicans because, in a 50-50 Senate, Vice President Cheney could cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of the GOP. Unable to punish Lieberman, Democrats publicly say they are just happy to have his vote on key issues, such as this week's legislation aimed at battling global warming.

"Joe Lieberman is an important vote for this caucus," Reid said yesterday, telling reporters that he had a "fruitful" private discussion with Lieberman about his actions.

Reid acknowledged he had no intention of attempting to mete out punishment, such as revoking Lieberman's chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

"We'll let the future decide what it's going to be, but I'm not about to threaten anybody at this point," Reid said.

For now, the only constraint on Lieberman -- who supports McCain's and President Bush's approach to the Iraq war -- is a gentleman's agreement with Reid that he will not attend Democratic caucus meetings when they center on discussions of the war.

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