Lieberman retains committee chair with Salazar’s backing

Sen. Joe Lieberman kept a key committee gavel but won the rebuke of his colleagues for campaigning against Sen. Barack Obama in a deal brokered Tuesday morning by Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar and a handful of other Democratic senators. “It’s time to unite our country,” Salazar said after Senate Democrats voted 42-13 to allow the Connecticut independent, who caucuses with the Democrats, to continue as Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chairman.

“It was very clear people want Sen. Lieberman to be part of the caucus,” Salazar said after the vote. Lieberman thanked Salazar, along with Sens. Thomas Carper of Delaware, Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Bill Nelson of Florida, who steered the compromise, partly in response to Obama’s urging that Democrats let bygones be bygones.

In addition to condemnation for his remarks on the campaign trail, Lieberman lost his seat on the Environment and Public Works Committee and gave up a spot heading the Subcommittee on Private Sector and Consumer Solutions to Global Warming and Wildlife Protection.

Salazar and Dodd spoke in Lieberman’s defense during the two-hour, closed-door meeting, The Wall Street Journal reports. Sens. Pat Leahy and Bernie Sanders led the opposition to Lieberman keeping his chair.

“He did not apologize — and he was not asked to apologize — for supporting Sen. McCain,” Nelson told the Journal. “That’s over. The election is over. It’s a new era.”

Lieberman, in a statement after the vote, said his vocal opposition to Obama — including a fiery speech he made on McCain’s behalf at the Republican National Convention — was just a misunderstanding:

And in that regard, I said very clearly, some of the statements, some of the things that people have said I said about Senator Obama, are simply not true. 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 “move on” theme didn’t sit well with everyone, however.

Talking Points Memo Election Central’s Greg Sargent condemned the compromise:

So, Senate Dems will be allowing Lieberman to keep his plum spot despite the fact that he has been deeply awful in that role, and despite the fact that he endorsed efforts by the GOP to imply that Obama is in league with terrorists, suggested that Obama endangered our troops, and said Obama hasn’t always put the country first.

Worse, [Sen. Harry] Reid is echoing an argument he knows is false: That this is only about retribution. Reid and his fellow Senators have made the political decision to leave Lieberman in a job that he was a disaster at, rather than make the good governmental decision to remove him for the good of the country.

Denver author David Sirota on Monday warned that allowing Lieberman to keep his committee chair — and the subpoena powers to investigate the Obama administration — would be opening up a can of worms:

Joe Lieberman has made clear he thinks Barack Obama is a socialist who is a danger to the United States as president. Therefore, putting any personal animosity against Joe Lieberman aside, it’s clear that while letting Lieberman caucus with Democrats is absolutely fine, giving Lieberman subpoena power on a committee whose mission is investigating the executive branch of the supposed socialist who supposedly is a danger to the United States is probably a bad idea. …

[The] question about whether a senator supports or opposes giving Lieberman four-year subpoena power to tear down the Obama administration doesn’t pit supposed “centrist conciliators” who support Lieberman against “rabid partisans” who oppose him. Though the media insists that Lieberman will always be the honorable independent “centrist” because almost a decade ago he gave a single speech attacking Bill Clinton for getting a blow job, Lieberman has since proven himself to be one of the most partisan attack dogs in the entire Congress.

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