Bill Grant Column November 18, 2008
Ken Salazar should limit his support for independent Joe Lieberman
It is not surprising to learn that Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar is working to keep Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic caucus despite his defection to the McCain campaign. One of the Democrats who endorsed Lieberman in his 2006 Senate race as an independent against Democrat Ned Lamont, Salazar has made no secret of his close relationship with Lieberman. The two also belonged to the “Gang of 14” senators who ended Democratic filibusters against George Bush’s judicial nominees.
This is not to suggest that Salazar is motivated primarily by personal considerations, though his active advocacy for Lieberman likely grows from their personal history. With the magic 60 senators needed for a filibuster-proof Senate tantalizingly close, keeping Lieberman in the Democratic caucus makes good political sense. It may require some nose holding, but Democrats may subordinate righteous anger to the practical value of a filibuster-proof majority.
While Salazar may justify his determination to keep Lieberman in the Democratic caucus, his support should not include allowing him to retain his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Government Oversight Committee.
With responsibility for security issues and numerous governmental operations, Homeland Security is too sensitive to be entrusted to Lieberman. Some things could be worse than lacking 60 votes.
It is widely reported that President-elect Barack Obama has signaled that he prefers keeping Lieberman in the caucus. Such a move by the Democrats would be a dramatization of Obama’s willingness to set aside partisan differences, even when they originate within his own party. It doesn’t hurt that Lieberman gets the Democrats one vote closer to making sure legislation reflecting the new president’s agenda reaches Obama’s Oval Office.
But it is hard to imagine how the Obama administration could benefit from having as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee an individual who spent the campaign insisting that the president-elect was incapable of keeping the country safe. Repeating every calumny invented by the McCain-Palin team, Lieberman went out of his way to insult Obama by suggesting that he might be a Marxist and questioning whether he would put his country first. Not the kind of rhetoric that suggests Lieberman would have confidence in Obama’s judgment or support his Homeland Security agenda.
While Sen. Salazar can justify his support for Lieberman remaining in the Democratic caucus, he would be challenged to make a compelling case for retaining him as chairman of Homeland Security. Lieberman has been an ardent supporter of the Iraq war and other Bush policies, including the questionable domestic spying policies instituted by the Bush administration. As chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, he showed no interest in investigating the failures that led to the Hurricane Katrina disaster or the threats to personal liberty by some of Bush’s homeland security policies.
Lieberman’s campaign behavior has disqualified him to continue heading a committee so important to national security. Salazar should join those senators, such as Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, who have spoken against Lieberman’s chairmanship. As Sanders put it, “To reward Sen. Lieberman with a major committee chairmanship would be a slap in the face of millions of Americans who worked tirelessly for Barack Obama and who want to see real change in our country. Appointing someone to a major post who led the opposition to everything we are fighting for is not ‘change we can believe in.’”
Many Colorado voters who supported Obama for his position on the war before the economy became the dominant campaign issue share Sanders’ opinion. For Salazar to support continuing Lieberman’s control of the Homeland Security Committee would deny these Coloradoans the kind of change they voted for.
The latest reports from The Hartford Courant say that Lieberman will accept the results of a secret vote in the Senate on the fate of his chairmanship. This is probably the best solution to the problem, especially if he is voted out of the chairmanship and continues to caucus with the Democrats. That will probably end the matter.
If, on the other hand, Lieberman wins the vote and keeps his chairmanship, it could lead some Colorado voters to insist that Salazar explain what role he played in that important decision. I hope it will not come to that.