May 13, 2008

About a month ago, Joe Lieberman explained that he’s open to delivering the keynote address at the Republican National Convention in September. “If Sen. McCain, who I support so strongly, asked me to do it, if he thinks it will help him, I will,” Lieberman told The Hill.

At the time, the Democratic Senate leadership didn’t seem prepared to do anything about Lieberman’s antics. Asked whether Lieberman’s chairmanship was at risk in the next Congress, Majority Leader Harry Reid said succinctly, “No.” Majority Whip Dick Durbin added, “We have one difference of opinion, maybe two with Sen. Lieberman. As a whip, I can tell you time and again, he’s been there when we’ve needed him.”

Democratic discontent, however, seems to be on the rise.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) could be stripped of his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee after the next election, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said.

Speaking to MSNBC host Keith Olbermann on Friday, Reid suggested the former Democrat, who lost to a left-wing primary challenger in 2006 and has now endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for the presidency, is not guaranteed to keep his prestigious chairmanship.

Olbermann asked Reid if there was “anything that he could do that would make you move to take his leadership position away on Homeland Security.” The majority leader responded: “Yes, of course,” but did not elaborate.

Earlier on Friday, Reid added, “I think it’s wrong what he’s done [campaigning for McCain], and I told him that.”

A Lieberman aide told The Hill, “Sen. Reid has made it clear that the chairmanship is absolutely not in jeopardy.” A month ago, I’d say that sounded right. Now, I’m not sure.

The Guardian added this item yesterday, suggesting the Republican convention may be the line Lieberman cannot cross, as far as the Democratic leadership is concerned.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, a stalwart backer of John McCain who calls himself an “independent Democrat”, could face punishment from the Democratic party if he is asked to speak at this summer’s Republican convention. […]

Reid today left the door open to sanctioning Lieberman if he speaks in favour of McCain’s nomination.

“I’ll consider anything,” Reid said at a breakfast with reporters today, adding that the Democratic presidential nominee, likely Barack Obama, would want to weigh in on Lieberman’s future role.

Hmm. A month ago, Reid suggested Lieberman is safe. Yesterday, he’s open to possible consequences.

I suppose the obvious question, then, is why Reid balked at the notion of punishing Lieberman when asked about this a month ago. My suspicion is that Reid, at least at the time, didn’t want to spark a controversy or show his cards — he abruptly said “no” when asked whether Lieberman’s chairmanship was at risk, tamping down speculation.

But over the last several weeks, my bet is that Reid has grown increasingly frustrated, and has probably heard an earful from some members of the Senate Democratic caucus. Perhaps the talk we’ve heard from Reid over the last five days is an effort to lay the groundwork for the punishment to come? At this point, I get the sense it’s a distinct possibility.

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