My Son, the Senator

By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, October 30, 2008

While Joe the Plumber is helping to get out the working-class vote for the GOP ticket in Ohio, another Joe is busy doing his part for John McCain -- Joe the Senator.

Otherwise known as Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), Joe the Senator is wooing the small but possibly crucial Jewish voting bloc in Ohio, which McCain campaign aides hope will help them capture the battleground state.

Lieberman's face is plastered all over a glossy eight-page mailer, funded by the Ohio Republican Party, that began arriving in mailboxes in primarily Jewish neighborhoods yesterday afternoon. The cover features a large photo of Lieberman with his pal and Senate colleague McCain (R-Ariz.) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, both wearing yarmulkes.

"A proven record, a friend of the Jewish community, 25 years of rock-solid support for strong U.S.-Israel relations, ready to lead on Day One," the cover blares.

Inside, there's a photo of McCain and Lieberman, accompanied by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, inspecting "terrorist rockets" fired from Gaza into the southern Israel town of Sderot. On the back, again, there's Joe, who is quoted as saying:

"As a lifelong Democrat, people often ask me, why am I supporting John McCain? There are many important issues in this campaign, but there is a central issue that is far more important than all the others: The issue of national security and the war against Islamist extremism. And I know with absolute certainty, that the most qualified candidate to be commander in chief is John McCain."

Not surprisingly, the McCain campaign and its surrogates have shied away from highlighting running mate Sarah Palin, an evangelical Christian, to Jewish voters. She is not seen in the Ohio GOP flier. Instead, another Republican governor of an outlying state is working Ohio this week: Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, who, like Joe, is Jewish.

Round and Round It Goes

Whatever happens in Tuesday's presidential race, Lieberman is facing his own day of reckoning. Senate Democrats grew irate this year with his campaigning for McCain and, more important, his open criticism of Obama. Some have privately talked of tossing Lieberman out of the Democratic caucus by stripping him of his committee assignments, and the betting inside the Capitol is that there's a move to remove him as chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

"We're not going to discuss that till after the election. You can draw your own conclusion," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the party leadership, told reporters yesterday.

And so begins one of Capitol Hill's favorite parlor games: speculation over who gets which committee chairmanship.

If Lieberman loses his post, it's unclear whether he would bolt across the aisle and caucus with Republicans. His chairmanship could fall to either Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), who already chairs Veterans Affairs, or Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.).

And if Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.), is moved aside as chairman of the Appropriations Committee [see story below], Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) is expected to claim that prized gavel.

But the musical chairs hardly stop there.

If Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) becomes vice president, the coveted chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee would open. Next in line is Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), but he already chairs the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, which has been dramatically elevated in stature by the credit crisis and subsequent financial meltdown.

"Senator Dodd is focused on a substantial agenda in each of his committees, both for the remainder of this Congress and next year," Kate Szostak, Dodd's spokeswoman, said in a statement. "As Chairman of the Banking Committee, he will be conducting vigilant oversight of the Treasury Department's implementation of the recently-enacted financial rescue law."

If Dodd stays put on the banking panel, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) is in line to become the Senate's top diplomat as Foreign Relations chairman. Kerry, however, may have a choice of posts.

If Inouye moves to Appropriations, Sen. John D. Rockefeller III (D-W. Va.) is next in line to succeed him at Commerce. But Rockefeller already chairs the Intelligence Committee, which has a higher profile but is more secretive. Should Rockefeller stay at Intelligence, then Kerry could take Commerce or Foreign Relations.

Ultimately, there's a scenario under which the No. 4 Democrat in seniority on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee ends up with the gavel. Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) could vault all the way to full Commerce chairman if Inouye takes Appropriations, Rockefeller stays at Intelligence and Kerry takes Foreign Relations.

Before all the music stops, two other chairmanships might be open. If Rockefeller were to move into the Commerce slot, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) could take the Intelligence gavel. [It's worth noting, however, that Feinstein has told colleagues she's considering a 2010 run for governor, so her chairmanship could be brief, with Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) waiting in the wings.] If Kerry moves off to another chairmanship, his gavel at the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee becomes available. While it's not the most sought after panel, Small Business does come with a full allotment of staff and office space. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) would be most likely to succeed Kerry.

When the Music Ends

Of course, the above speculation assumes a White House victory by Obama. Should McCain pull off a come-from-behind victory, several coveted slots on the Republican side of the committee dais would come open.

A President McCain would leave behind his ranking membership on the Armed Services Committee, with Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.) likely to succeed him as the panel's top Republican.

An Inhofe move to Armed Services would be music to the ears of environmental activists, who have fought with him for years as chairman and now ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. There, Inhofe has proclaimed global warming a hoax.

If Inhofe leaves the environment panel, Sen. George V. Voinovich (Ohio) would be in line to take over as the committee's ranking Republican.

Guilty, but Turpitudinous?

Fresh off a seven-count felony conviction, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is expected to appear tonight in his first -- and only -- debate with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich before Tuesday's election.

Despite resignation calls from senior GOP leaders in Washington, Stevens is running a one-week campaign as if all is normal. No one knows how voters will react to the news that the 84-year-old incumbent might serve some federal jail time. That makes tonight's debate almost as crucial to Stevens's future as the cross-examination he endured from federal prosecutors.

At the same time the Alaska Republican Party is holding a Stevens rally in Anchorage at Eddie's Sports Bar. The main act is the state's official balladeer: "Hobo Jim," a fisherman-logger-cowboy turned country singer.

One key issue remains unresolved: whether Stevens can vote for his own reelection. Alaska law states that "a person convicted of a crime that constitutes a felony involving moral turpitude" is not permitted to cast a ballot. The Washington Post's Del Quentin Wilber, after covering the Stevens trial, asked Gail Fenumiai, the state's top election official, about the matter.

Fenumiai said she was awaiting a ruling from state lawyers to determine if lying on your Senate financial disclosure forms constitutes moral turpitude.

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