Lieberman’s conditional support

LIEBERMAN’S CONDITIONAL SUPPORT…. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who’s offered Joe Lieberman some public support over the last week or so, spoke with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last night about the Connecticut Independent’s future.

The clip is worth watching (the Huffington Post has the full transcript for those who can’t watch videos online), in part because it shows Bayh calling on Lieberman to offer a “sincere apology” for his conduct. One wonders what Lieberman’s comfort level will be for that idea — I suspect he believes he has nothing to apologize for.

But even more importantly, Bayh repeatedly raised the specter of letting Lieberman keep his gavel, while reserving the right to take it away if he acts up again.

“[I]f he does retain his chairmanship, we still exert oversight over him and control over him. He doesn’t have the ability to just do whatever he wants. The caucus still has the right to remove him from that position at any time if he starts going off on some kind of tangent,” Bayh said. He added, “[Y]ou have got to keep — to tell him, ‘Look, we’re going to give you a chance here. But if you don’t do the right things as chairman, if you know, we see any continuation of this kind of behavior, well, then, at that point, you know, the game is up at that point.'” Asked to clarify, Bayh said he’s referring specifically to the committee chairmanship, adding, “You’ve got to remember, we have the right to change chairmen at any time during the session.”

This, in other words, would be a conditional chairmanship. There are at least two main problems with this approach.

First, it extends Lieberman a benefit of the doubt that he clearly hasn’t earned. What makes Bayh, or anyone else, think Lieberman will suddenly start acting sensibly, especially after what we’ve seen of him over the last two years?

And second, I wonder what happens if, in six months, Lieberman starts launching partisan witch hunts against the Obama White House, and Senate Dems decide it’s time to take Lieberman’s gavel away. How’s that going to look? An independent senator starts asking pesky questions of a Democratic president and White House allies decide to sack the one doing the asking?

Senate Democrats are not only making a mistake that they’ll regret, they’re making a mistake that will be hard to correct later.