Lieberman willing to star at Republican convention
By Manu Raju
Posted: 04/15/08 08:06 PM [ET]
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the Democratic Party’s 2000 vice presidential nominee, is leaving open the possibility of giving a keynote address on behalf of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) at the Republican National Convention in September.
Republicans close to the McCain campaign say Lieberman’s appearance at the convention, possibly before a national primetime audience, could help make the case that the presumptive GOP nominee has a record of crossing the aisle. That could appeal to much-needed independent voters.
McCain has yet to ask Lieberman to speak, either in primetime or elsewhere, at the convention. But if McCain thinks it will help make his case for the White House, as some of his allies suspect, Lieberman would be willing to speak on his behalf.
“If Sen. McCain, who I support so strongly, asked me to do it, if he thinks it will help him, I will,” Lieberman said in a brief interview.
Lieberman said he doubts McCain will ask him to give a keynote address, but acknowledges the subject has yet to come up in the two senators’ discussions.
A Lieberman aide said even though there are no plans for the Independent to give a speech at the convention, it is a “likely possibility” he will address the Republican audience in some form.
Appearing before the Republican convention carries some risk for Lieberman. His Democratic colleagues could seek retribution by taking away his gavel on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee next Congress.
Lieberman has had a long leash this Congress because his decision to caucus with Democrats — despite losing Connecticut’s 2006 Democratic primary — allows them to hold their narrow 51-49 majority. If Democrats pick up more seats as expected in November, and Lieberman angers Democrats along the campaign trail, some privately expect there might be an attempt to deny him his bid to retain his chairmanship.
One Democratic leadership aide said losing his chairmanship could happen in that scenario, but “the bar would have to be very high.”
That’s because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has a close relationship with Lieberman.
Unlike a number of Democratic colleagues who backed Lieberman’s challenger Ned Lamont after the 2006 primary, Reid offered words of praise for the senator, saying he would not “turn on Joe.” Reid called Lieberman and promised him a chairmanship if he won reelection, a move that angered some Lamont supporters.
Even though Reid may not need Lieberman next Congress to claim a Senate majority, he told Lieberman in private conversations that he would protect his seniority.
“I can tell you Sen. Reid had talked to me a few times and said he knows there will be talk if we get more than 51 Democrats next year,” Lieberman told The Hartford Courant this month. “As far as he is concerned, I will retain my seniority, et cetera, no matter how many Democrats there are next year.”
Jim Manley, a Reid spokesman, said he would not comment on the senator’s private conversations, but acknowledged that the two men spoke.
When asked Tuesday if Lieberman’s chairmanship was at risk next Congress, Reid said succinctly: “No.”
“We have one difference of opinion, maybe two with Sen. Lieberman,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a prominent supporter of Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) presidential candidacy. “As a whip, I can tell you time and again, he’s been there when we’ve needed him.”
Lieberman, a staunch Iraq war supporter, has taken the Democratic Party to task for its push to withdraw from Iraq, likening that approach to surrendering to al Qaeda. He has called for aggressive action against Iran and pushed measures that some Democrats have likened to war-mongering.
He continues to criticize the Democratic candidates for their foreign policy positions, and says the party has jettisoned its tradition of being strong on defense by pandering to its liberal base.
Making those points to a Republican audience in front of national primetime viewers would make a strong case for McCain’s candidacy, which is based largely on his national security experience, Republicans say.
“I think it would be a great idea,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), McCain’s closest Hill ally. “If you looked at economic issues and social issues, I bet you we disagree a vast majority of the time. But when you look at what the primary job of what a United States senator is in the age in which we live, we have pretty much universal agreement — and that’s to protect the homeland.”
“I think Sen. Lieberman would be a very powerful spokesperson,” said Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.), a former general chairman of the Republican National Committee. “I think he really is someone who helps Sen. McCain break through to independent voters.”
Lieberman’s presence could potentially anger some social conservatives because of his positions supporting abortion rights and other liberal values. But Lieberman’s arguments that McCain is best suited to lead the country at a time of war would override those objections, said Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a hero of the religious right.
“If he’s talking about security issues, Iran, Joe is fabulous on those issues,” Brownback said.
But the extent of his criticism on Democrats could bring back memories of 2004, when Georgia Democratic Sen. Zell Miller gave a scathing keynote speech attacking Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the party’s presidential nominee. Miller, who was planning to retire from the Senate at the end of 2004, had little to lose by crossing his party.
Kerry declined to comment on Lieberman, but called Miller’s speech “hysterical and inaccurate.”Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said he doubts Lieberman would give a Miller-like speech.
“I don’t think he’s going to act like that if he does that,” Brown said. “But of course, I would be disappointed if he does that.”