Lieberman May be Stripped of Seniority

Key Democratic Party leaders are angry at Joe Lieberman for running against their nominee and there is now talk of stripping his seniority within the caucus.

A group of Senate Democrats is growing increasingly angry about Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (D-Conn.) campaign tactics since he lost the Democratic primary last week. If he continues to alienate his colleagues, Lieberman could be stripped of his seniority within the Democratic caucus should he defeat Democrat Ned Lamont in the general election this November, according to some senior Democratic aides.

In recent days, Lieberman has rankled Democrats in the upper chamber by suggesting that those who support bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq by a certain date would bolster terrorists’ planning attacks against the U.S. and its allies. He also sparked resentment by saying last week on NBC’s Today show that the Democratic Party was out of the political mainstream.

Democrats are worried that Lieberman may be giving Republicans a golden opportunity to undermine their message. “I think there’s a lot of concern,” said a senior Democratic aide who has discussed the subject with colleagues. “I think the first step is if the Lieberman thing turns into a side show and hurts our message and ability to take back the Senate, and the White House and the [National Republican Senatorial Committee] manipulate him, there are going to be a lot of unhappy people in our caucus.”


The issue of Lieberman’s seniority would arise most dramatically if Lieberman wins re-election and Democrats recapture control of the chamber. That would slot Lieberman to take over as chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the panel primarily responsible for investigating the executive branch.


“At this point Lieberman cannot expect to just keep his seniority,” said the aide. “He can’t run against a Democrat and expect to waltz back to the caucus with the same seniority as before. It would give the view that the Senate is a country club rather than representative of a political party and political movement.” The aide said that it would make no sense to keep Lieberman in a position where he might take over the Governmental Affairs Committee.


The view that Lieberman should lose his seniority is likely to become more ingrained among Democrats if Lieberman continues to align himself with Republicans, as he has in the last few days. Lieberman took a call from senior White House political strategist Karl Rove on the day of his primary election. And since losing, he has adopted rhetoric echoing Republican talking points.


So far, at least 26 Democratic senators have said they are supporting Lamont, including Reid, according to a survey conducted by The Hill. Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Democratic leaders would make no decisions about committees until after the election.

The morning after Lamont’s win, Markos Moulitsas Zúniga outlined a fivefour point plan that I considered “amazingly stupid.” Interestingly, the Democrats are now following the DailyKos playbook.

While I still think it unlikely that the Democrats will retake the Senate, there is some possibility of that happening. The best case scenarios, though, have the Democrats having a 51-49 lead, which would include the “independent” Lieberman. If they stripped him of his seniority, one would think the Republicans would woo him with an important chairmanship in exchange for caucusing with them, making it 50-50 with Vice President Cheney as the tiebreaker.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    I would hardly count keeping Lieberman vice bringing in Lamont under “best case” scenarios for the Dems…

  2. Legion,
    I think the best case scenario is the idea of the democrats winning 6 seats in the senate.

    I think the irony that you miss here is that the democrats should have the CT contest as a don’t care with regard to gaining a senate majority. Schlesinger is not likely to win and a Schlesinger win should be the only way the democrats lose the seat to their caucus. But they seem to be trying to find a way that even if they gain the majority they can lose it again.

  3. Trest says:

    Lieberman May be Stripped

    Please, for the love of God, keep the stripping references to your Hooters post!

  4. Justin Case says:

    I agree completely here. From a political perspective, taking any punitive actions against Lieberman right now would be an amazingly stupid move on the part of the Democratic leadership. I don’t think Reid is likely to do it – he’s too much of a pragmatist and certainly must have considered the solid (at least 50-50) chance Lieberman gets reelected – but the left wing of the party will certainly continue howling for Lieberman’s blood in any way they can.

  5. Ara says:

    Kos’ “5-point plan” may be “amazingly stupid” but the fact remains that you’re the one who managed to miss the fact that it only has 4 points.

    I’m just saying.

    P.S. If there’s a chance that Lieberman would jump ship in a 51-49 Dem Senate, then that’s another reason to vote for Lamont.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Ara: Good point. I must have been thinking of the Communists and their 5 year plans.

    I think the only way he “jumps ship” is if the Democrats act stupidly. The man was their vice presidential nominee, for goodness sakes, it’s silly to jettison him over one issue. It’s not like he’s taking a contrarian position for political gain, either–the Dems appear on the winning side of this one in the polls. He’s clearly just disagreeing on principle on a heartfelt issue.

  7. Dannyboy says:

    Eh. I think the article was a threat rather than anything they’ll do right away.

    Though really, if you admire Lieberman for standing up on principle, can you really scoff at Dems for stripping him of his status if he’s attacking them and is Independent?

    Isn’t it sort of the same type of integrity?

  8. Anderson says:

    I dunno. If Lieberman keeps acting like a Republican, then presumably at some point he’ll become a Republican.

    I mean, suppose the Dems actually get their 51-49 and then try to hold some serious hearings into our secret prisons, etc. You know Lieberman would jump parties just to screw that up. He’d have 6 years to serve, so why not?

  9. Anderson,

    He has a 90% liberal voting record. I’m not aware of any republican who is voting as often with the democrats as Lieberman or has as liberal a voting record. Lieberman really is a democrat. He has been a democrat for many years. The only possibility for Lieberman to not be a democrat is if the democrats kick him out of the party.

  10. Anderson says:

    YAJ, I’m not up on Lieberman’s voting record, but I would point out that such stats can be meaningless.

    For example, Lieberman voted “against” the bankruptcy bill … *after* he voted in favor of cloture, thus ensuring the bill’s passage.

    How does that get counted in your stat?

    Be that as it may, where Lieberman’s been needed … when the cameras have been running … he’s not been there.

    OTOH, there’s LBJ’s remark that it’s better to have someone inside the tent pissing out, than vice-versa. Still, Lieberman seems to be doing a good job of staying in the tent & pissing in it. You can’t expect the other Dems to put up with the smell forever.

  11. Joe Buck says:

    If we end up with 50 Dems plus Lieberman, it would still be in the Democrats’ interest to prevent Lieberman from being chair of the homeland security committee, because he’d just use the post to shut down any oversight of the Bush administration. Since he’d use the post to act like a Republican, you might as well make it official.

  12. Winston Smith says:

    If the Democrats take the Senate with a 51-49 advantage, Lieberman isn’t going to be an issue.

    He’s going to lose the race in Connecticut.

    — Winston

  13. legion says:

    I think the irony that you miss here is that the democrats should have the CT contest as a don’t care with regard to gaining a senate majority.

    An excellent point, James, and one I haven;t really seen mentioned much. If it wasn’t for the Lieberman controversy, this race likely wouldn’t be on the news at all. I have yet to figure out if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, though…