By all accounts, the meeting today between Joseph Lieberman, the independent senator from Connecticut, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was a cordial, even friendly, one. But Lieberman made a hard push to remain chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, suggesting he may leave the Democratic caucus if he is demoted, ABC News has learned.
For Democrats, this is payback time. They want to punish Lieberman for his high-profile support of John McCain's failed presidential bid, observers say. Democrats were especially infuriated by Lieberman's attacks on Barack Obama during his primetime speech at the Republican National Convention in September.
Lieberman is a lifelong Democrat who served as the party's vice presidential nominee in 2000. He became independent in 2006 but continues to caucus with Senate Democrats.
Reid and Lieberman met in Reid's Capitol Hill office for 45 minutes this afternoon. Reid told Lieberman that he intended to take away his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee, according to sources who have spoken with both senators about the meeting.
But Reid told Lieberman that he wants him to remain in the Democratic caucus, offering Lieberman a leadership role in a lesser committee if he agreed to continue caucusing with Democrats.
But Lieberman refused the offer, sources said, and said that taking revenge for Lieberman's support of McCain was not consistent with President-elect Obama's promise to change Washington and to work in a way that transcends partisan politics.
Despite Lieberman's high-profile support for McCain, Republicans don't expect him to join forces with them. As one senior Senate Republican aide told ABC News, "Why would he become a Republican? He votes against us on everything except Iraq."
After the meeting, both senators were tight-lipped about the meeting. Reid released a statement saying the discussions would continue, adding, "While I understand that Sen. Lieberman has voted with Democrats a majority of the time, his comments and actions have raised serious concerns among many in our caucus."
Lieberman made a short statement after the meeting, saying he was going to spend the next few days thinking about his options.
Of his actions during the campaign, Lieberman said, "We have just finished an historic election. As you know, I decided in that election that partisanship should take a back seat to doing what, in this case, I believe, was best for our country. But the election is over, and I completely agree with President-elect Obama that we must now unite to get our economy going again and to keep the American people safe. That is exactly what I intend to do with my colleagues here in the Senate in support of our new president. And those are the standards that I will use in considering the options that I have before me. And of course I will ask others to do the same."