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.�
Lewan said that the issue of stripping Lieberman�s seniority did not come up in any of his conversations. He also said he has offered to share Democrats� concerns with the Lieberman campaign.
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.
Allowing Lieberman to retain his seniority could put the senator now running as an independent in charge of the Senate�s chief investigative committee. If Democrats took control of either chamber they would likely launch investigations of the White House�s handling of the war in Iraq and homeland security.
�Lieberman�s tone and message has shocked a lot of people,� said a second senior Democratic aide who has discussed the issue with other Senate Democrats. �He�s way off message for us and right in line with the White House.�
�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 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.
�If we pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England,� Lieberman said about U.S. troops in Iraq and the recently foiled terrorism scheme. �It will strengthen them, and they will strike again.�
Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean has likened Lieberman�s recent statements to the rhetoric coming from Vice President Dick Cheney and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman.
Asked yesterday about the race, Dean said, �Ned will win,� adding that Democratic turnout for Lamont will help the party in other Connecticut races.