According to both a recently published story in the Hill, a newspaper that covers Washington and congressional politics, and Robert Novak’s latest column, Democratic staffers are talking about stripping Senator Joseph Lieberman of his seniority if Lieberman’s Independent candidacy succeeds. What are the Democrats thinking? Running Lieberman out of the Democratic Caucus might well mean one more vote for a Republican majority, which is OK with me, but not a rational nor desirable outcome if you are a Democrat.
I am reminded of the 1980 GOP primary for Senator from New York, which pitted the incumbent Jacob Javits against the upstart Al D’Amato. Senator Javits lost the primary. But on the night of Javits’ primary loss, Senator Howard Baker, the then-Senate Minority Leader, assured Javits that if he won in November, Javits could retain his seniority and his seat as ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In the end, Javits lost in the general election and never became Committee Chairman, D’Amato was elected in the Reagan landslide, and Howard Baker became Senate Majority Leader.
Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the Senate, has neither shown Howard Baker’s foresight nor grace. Instead, Senator Reid announced that he will not discuss committee assignments until after the November election. What is also interesting, but not surprising, is that unnamed Democratic aides can and do threaten Lieberman’s seniority in print without being chided by elected Democrats.
The reality is that the universe of primary voters is a narrow one. The reality is that Democrats are angry. The reality is that the heart and demographics of the Democratic Party are not where Joe Lieberman is. And the reality is that Howard Dean’s Democratic Party may be serious about requiring political conformity/theological orthodoxy from the party’s senators.
Threatening Lieberman may feel good in the moment. But, it is not smart politics. Senator Reid should assure Senator Lieberman about his seniority and place in the Democratic Caucus. Otherwise, Harry Reid will have again reminded the electorate why they just cannot trust Harry Reid with being Senate Majority leader, and the Democrats with running the Senate.
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