Senate Democrats Vote: Lieberman Keeps Chairmanship

In a 42-13 vote, Senate Democrats allow Lieberman to retain chairmanship.

November 18, 2008, 12:12 PM

Nov. 18, 2008 -- Tuesday was D-Day for Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

In a 42-13 secret ballot vote, Democratic senators approved a resolution stripping Lieberman of a subcommittee chairmanship, but allowing him to remain chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

No staff members were allowed as Democratic senators filed into the old Senate chamber at 9:30 a.m. for leadership elections and other party business. The fate of the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee was the first agenda item, as his colleagues discussed whether he would be punished for slights to the party.

Before the vote, Lieberman gave what one senator described as a "heartfelt" speech explaining his actions.

"He did not say he regretted supporting McCain, but he did say he regretted some of the things he said," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

Among the independent senator's perceived transgressions were supporting John McCain's presidential bid, attacking Barack Obama during the campaign and, perhaps worst of all, giving money to the campaigns of Republican Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Susan Collins of Maine.

Lieberman put statements he made about Obama during the campaign on a sliding scale of inappropriateness.

"Some of the things that people have said I said about Sen. Obama are simply not true," Lieberman said. "There are other statements that I made that I wish I had made more clearly and there are some that I made that I wish I had not made at all."

"And, obviously, in the heat of campaigns, that happens to all of us, but I regret that. And now it's time to move on," the Connecticut senator said.

Lieberman also said he hopes the unity shown by Democrats in their caucus today will "spread across the aisle."

As part of his penance, Lieberman will relinquish one of his four committee assignments, his seat on the Environment and Public Works Committee known as the Private Sector and Consumer Solutions to Global Warming and Wildlife Protection. Lieberman has said he still will offer a global warming cap and trade-style emissions control bill with McCain working across the aisle.

It's a slap on the wrist designed to punish Lieberman, but not as severely as some of his colleagues had hoped. The subcommittee has a lot of words in its name, but not a lot of power.

"It's peace, love and understanding time," said one Senate Democrat Monday. "There's a general feeling of, 'let's get beyond this and reconcile.'"

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he is "very satisfied" with the Democrats' vote.

"I feel good about what we did today. I don't apologize to anyone on what we did today. We're moving forward, recognizing that there is a period of time that in Joe Lieberman's political career that I will never understand or approve, but I also recognize that he's been in public office for four decades. {He's] one of the most progressive members to come from the state of Connecticut, and that says a lot," Reid said.

Lieberman, who was first elected to the Senate in 1988, was re-elected in 2006 as an independent after losing Connecticut's Democratic primary, but he aligns with the party within the Senate.

Lieberman's office refused to comment, but ABC News has been told that he has privately expressed a willingness to accept this minor demotion.

Lieberman will keep his other chairmanship on the Airland subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee. That will leave him as the chairman of one full committee and one subcommittee -- not bad for a guy who gave a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention two months ago.

By comparison, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., chairs only one subcommittee. She is, however, a lower-ranking member of Lieberman's Airland subcommittee.

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