Lieberman Says Democrats Promised He Can Keep Seniority
The Senate Democrats are hedging their bets, apparently promising Joe Lieberman he will retain his seniority if he’s re-elected as an Independent and joins their caucus.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, the longtime Democratic senator from Connecticut running for re-election as an independent, says the party leadership has assured him he would keep his seniority if he returns to Congress. Local Democrats are responding with irritation, political opponents voice disbelief, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) denies making a decision.
But the strongest response is likely to come from Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) who views Lieberman’s independent status as an opportunity to press Democratic leaders to restore seniority he lost four years ago. If Lautenberg retrieves seniority accrued during 18 years of Senate service before retiring in 2000, he could leapfrog Lieberman to lead the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee or the Environment and Public Works Committee.
Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, does not want to wrestle with these questions in public before the Nov. 7 election. “The caucus won’t make any decisions until after the elections in November,” said Reid’s spokesman, Jim Manley.
While that response implies that Lieberman’s status is to be decided by the entire caucus, senior Democratic aides say questions of seniority are largely decided by Reid.
Lieberman said he would keep his senior position in the caucus, even though he lost Connecticut’s Democratic primary, and is running against Democratic nominee Ned Lamont, whom the Senate Democratic leadership has endorsed. “That’s what I’ve been told,” said Lieberman in an interview Friday, before Congress recessed for the election. “Caucuses like to keep as many members as they can, not discourage membership,” implying that leaders risk his defection to the GOP if they strip him of seniority.
Jim Jeffords kept his seniority, too, when he bolted from the Republican party mere months after having been re-elected under their banner and caucused with the Democrats. Given that it’s quite likely the party will need every vote it can get, alienating Lieberman further would be idiotic.