Lieberman’s future

LIEBERMAN’S FUTURE…. Sometime before January, the Senate Democratic caucus will have to decide what to do with Joe Lieberman. The options range from doing nothing (allowing him to betray the party and become a Republican hack without consequence) or kicking him out of the caucus altogether.

In between the two is stripping Lieberman of his chairmanship, which seems to be like a no-brainer.

Members of the majority party’s leadership have discussed taking away Lieberman’s gavel on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, perhaps replacing it with a subcommittee gavel, aides said Wednesday.

Such a move would require the assent of the caucus, which won’t get together until after the election. […]

Aides privy to the leadership discussions say that their bosses view ending Lieberman’s chairmanship of a large committee with broad oversight authority as more appropriate retribution than kicking him out of the caucus.

After all, no matter how many seats the Democrats win in the Senate next week, Lieberman’s vote will still be valuable on domestic issues like health care even though he disagrees with Democrats on the war.

That sounds relatively compelling, but it’s incomplete. My suspicion is that if Lieberman loses his gavel, it would be effectively be the same thing as kicking him out of the caucus.

I wasn’t privy to the internal discussions, but consider Harry Reid & Co.’s dealings with Lieberman since he ran against the Democratic candidate in 2006. The party wanted his caucus vote, giving the party 51, and Lieberman wanted his committee chairmanship. If the party took his gavel, the assumption was he’d stroll across the aisle. Lieberman got to keep his chairmanship and Democrats got to keep their 51-seat majority.

Looking ahead, the caucus almost certainly won’t have any incentive to leave Lieberman in the big chair in 2009. First, they’ll probably have a much bigger majority. Second, Lieberman has been an awful committee chairman. And third, Lieberman has to realize he’ll be punished for his campaign-season conduct.

My guess is, if Lieberman loses his committee, he’ll feel compelled to spite the party and caucus with the Republicans. I guess we’ll see soon enough.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.