Latest on Lieberman

LATEST ON LIEBERMAN…. Barack Obama reportedly sent word to the Hill yesterday that he’d prefer to see Joe Lieberman stay in the Democratic caucus next year. That’s not too big a surprise — Obama’s big on magnanimity — and it’s not the kind of announcement that’s likely to have an impact. After all, there seems to be very little appetite for removing Lieberman from the caucus altogether.

And what’s Obama’s opinion on letting Lieberman keep his committee chairmanship? He apparently doesn’t have one.

“We aren’t going to referee decisions about who should or should not be a committee chair,” Obama transition spokesperson Stephanie Cutter emailed me, in response to questions about Obama’s stance on Lieberman’s future.

Cutter’s comments are the first on-the-record indication of Obama’s position on the politically fraught question of what to do about Lieberman.

“President-elect Obama looks forward to working with anyone to move the country forward,” Cutter continued. “We’d be happy to have Sen. Lieberman caucus with the Democrats. We don’t hold any grudges.”

Greg Sargent argued that Cutter’s comments are “all but certain to take the steam out of any efforts to dislodge Lieberman from the committee.” Maybe, but it seems to me that Cutter’s remarks are deliberately vague — the President-elect doesn’t want to see Lieberman get booted out of the caucus, but Obama has no interest in “refereeing” committee chairmanships. It is, in other words, a decision for the caucus and its leadership, neither of which involves Obama. I haven’t seen Cutter’s email in its entirety, but it seems possible to me that it sought to steer clear of, not intervene in, the intra-party dispute.

And what does the caucus think? As of last week, Harry Reid seemed anxious to give Lieberman a different committee, while Evan Bayh and Chris Dodd suggested Lieberman should face no consequences at all for his betrayals. Last night, Newsweek’s Howard Fineman noted on MSNBC that Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer both support stripping Lieberman of his current chairmanship. A caucus vote is likely next week, possibly as early as Tuesday, and if Reid, Durbin, and Schumer are all on the same page, it’s likely to carry some weight.

Also note, while there was a report yesterday that former President Clinton “is making calls on Sen. Lieberman’s behalf,” a Clinton spokesperson has since called the report “completely false.”

To briefly summarize the options: Democrats can a) go the harsh route and kick Lieberman out of the caucus; b) go the push-over route and give Lieberman everything he wants; or c) go the middle route and give him a different committee.

If anyone has any lingering doubts as to why there should be at least some consequence for Lieberman’s misconduct, the fine folks at ThinkProgress have a new report highlighting the senator’s recent record. It’s called, “Joe Lieberman: The Progressive Who Lost His Way.”