- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Senate Democrats spared Sen. Joe Lieberman from a threatened expulsion from the caucus and loss of his committee chairmanship despite smoldering anger at his siding with Republicans during the presidential race and campaigning against President-elect Barack Obama.

The Democrats’ embrace of the errant Mr. Lieberman in a 42-13 vote coincided with the caucus returning Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada to the post of majority leader and Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois to majority whip.

Participants in the closed caucus meeting said Mr. Reid came to Mr. Lieberman’s defense, reminding members of Mr. Lieberman’s long history and past loyalty to the party, including providing the crucial vote to give Democrats the majority in the chamber for the last two years.

Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he shared his colleagues’ anger with Mr. Lieberman, but chose reconciliation over retribution. The vote secured Mr. Lieberman’s post as chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and of the Armed Services airland subcommittee.

Mr. Lieberman, Connecticut independent, said the verdict was “fair and forward-leaning” and reflected a spirit of unity that Democrats hoped would pervade the next Congress as it goes to work with the Obama administration.

“Hopefully, it will go from our caucus across the aisle to the Republicans as well,” he said.

At the Senate Republican caucus meeting, lawmakers voted to keep top leaders in place despite its dwindling membership, but reshuffled lower leadership posts, including naming John Ensign of Nevada new chairman of the Republican Study Committee, John Cornyn of Texas as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and John Thune of South Dakota as vice chairman of the caucus.

Republicans left unresolved calls to oust from the caucus Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, who was convicted in October of seven felony counts of falsifying Senate financial-disclosure forms to conceal at least $250,000 of gifts and home-renovation work, mostly coming from a former friend and oil-services company executive.

They will not decide Stevens’ fate in the caucus until long-delayed election results in Alaska determine whether he is returning to the Senate next year.

A forlorn Stevens, who turned 85 Tuesday, emerged from the caucus hearing to tell a crush of reporters, “I would not wish what I’m going through on anybody - not my worst enemy.”

In the House, Democrats re-elected their leaders in unanimous votes. Republicans convene Wednesday, where House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, faces a challenge from Rep. Dan Lungren of California. Both candidates will address the party caucus before a vote.

In the Senate, Mr. Lieberman credited Mr. Obama with setting a conciliatory tone and advocating for Mr. Lieberman’s continued participation in the caucus.

Mr. Obama said the party should not “hold a grudge” against the Connecticut lawmaker, despite his endorsement of rival Sen. John McCain in the presidential election and his prime-time address to the Republican National Convention this summer.

Mr. Lieberman, who ran for vice president with Al Gore on the Democratic ticket in 2000, bucked the party to win re-election as an independent in 2006 after losing the Democratic primary because of his support for the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war. Although formally listed as an “Independent-Democrat,” he continued to caucus with Senate Democrats and provided the critical vote giving the party the majority in the closely divided Senate.

He rekindled Democrats’ resentment of his war stance by backing Mr. McCain for president and saying Mr. Obama is ill-equipped to serve as commander in chief.

The decision to let Mr. Lieberman off the hook outraged some hard-core Democratic voters.

“It seems we live in an era where there are no consequences for crimes [or] disloyalty,” said Gael Murphy, co-founder of the antiwar group Code Pink. “It is just more of the same, more of members of Congress protecting each other.”

As for lingering ill will toward Mr. Lieberman in the caucus, Mr. Reid said he was happy with the outcome and had no apologies.

Sen. Carl Levin said he was satisfied that members such as himself who were “very angry” at Mr. Lieberman’s conduct during the campaign had a chance to confront the senator face to face. He stopped short of saying all was forgiven regarding Mr. Lieberman.

“He expressed his regret,” the Michigan Democrat said. “We are moving on.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, expressed dissatisfaction with Mr. Lieberman’s status.

“My hope is that he becomes a Democrat again,” she said.

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