Setting a precedent

SETTING A PRECEDENT…. As far as I can tell, there isn’t a single Democratic senator or member of Barack Obama’s team who has even hinted that Joe Lieberman should be kicked out of the Democratic caucus altogether.

And yet, media coverage seems confused about this point.

President-elect Barack Obama has endorsed keeping Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) in the Democratic caucus, suggesting to the leadership that the two sides reach a compromise in the conflict over the former Democratic vice presidential nominee’s future, sources said yesterday.

In a phone conversation last week with Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), Obama said that expelling Lieberman for his support of the Republican presidential ticket would send the wrong signal after Obama’s promises to set partisanship aside, according to a Senate Democratic aide familiar with the conversation.

Look, the proposal that’s on the table is a “compromise.” In fact, for Lieberman, it’s a generous compromise. On one side, we have the possibility of kicking Lieberman out of the caucus. On the other side, we have the possibility of doing nothing, effectively rewarding Lieberman’s betrayals. In the middle, we have Harry Reid’s offer: Lieberman stays with the caucus, keeps his seniority, but gets a different committee to lead. This really isn’t complicated.

One other angle that I haven’t seen discussed much is the notion of establishing a bad precedent. In 1964, Rep. John Bell Williams (D) of Mississippi and Rep. Albert Watson (D) of South Carolina both endorsed Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign, and both were punished by losing their seniority. Four years later, Rep. John Rarick (D) of Louisiana endorsed George Wallace’s presidential campaign, and the party stripped him of his committee seniority, too.

In other words, what Lieberman is asking for here is special treatment. Worse, he’s asking for special treatment he hasn’t earned, as evidenced by his awful two-year tenure as the chairman of the committee he wants to keep.

Greg Sargent reported yesterday that the full Senate Democratic caucus will vote on Lieberman’s fate next week. Lieberman will, as I understand it, have a chance to plead his case before the vote.