November 13, 2008

So Evan Bayh is leading what appears to be a growing chorus of "let bygones be bygones" Democrats who want to let Joe Lieberman keep his seat as chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee:

“We can take away his chairmanship, that’s something we have the right to do,” Bayh said on MSNBC. “What you will have at that point is someone who may very well resign, or someone is embittered ... who might not be with us on some of these key votes.”

Bayh said that Lieberman must first issue a “sincere apology” for campaign attacks warning of the perils of an Obama presidency and a large Democratic majority in Congress. He said Democrats should allow him to keep his chairmanship on the condition that he would not use his subpoena power and influence as chairman to undermine Obama’s presidency. Otherwise, Democrats would take away his gavel at any point next Congress, Bayh warned.

Bayh said Democrats should tell Lieberman sternly, “Look, we’re giving you a chance here, but if you don’t do the right things as chairman, and we see any continuation of this kind of behavior ...the game is up at that point.”

Democrats need to look beyond the mere fact of Lieberman's egregious disloyalty in the past campaign, which of course is at least an understandable reason to remove him, if not the most compelling one in a post-election season aimed at bridging rifts.

A far more compelling reason is that Lieberman in fact parts ways with Democrats on many issues besides merely the Iraq war. Think Progress has a pretty thorough rundown on just how many ways Joe is not with us when it counts: on taxes, Social Security, torture, health care, energy ... the list is long and damning.

But the ultimate reason to remove Lieberman as chair of Homeland Security is that his record as chair of that committee has been abjectly conservative, partisan, and in the end a menace to Americans' civil rights: In other words, Lieberman is antithetical to the progressive mandate Democrats have just been handed.

Think Progress has some of the lowlights:

  • Lieberman on oversight duties: “We don’t like investigating”: Responding to criticism of his committee’s record, Lieberman said, “We like to do legislation,” Lieberman said. “We don’t like investigating … just to see who is at fault.” [7/15/08]
  • Held zero oversight hearings on Bush administration in 2007: Lieberman conducted zero “proactive investigations into Bush administration malfeasance” in 2007. [12/24/07]
  • Backed away from pre-election demands to investigate White House response to Katrina: Lieberman “quietly backed away from his pre-election demands that the White House turn over potentially embarrassing documents relating to its handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans,” Newsweek reported. [1/12/07]
  • Said investigating Katrina was like “playing gotcha”: Lieberman said he was not interested in “looking back, and assigning blame would be a waste of Congress’ time.” Lieberman said he was reluctant to mount an investigation of the failures of the initial response, saying “We don’t want to play ‘gotcha’ anymore.” [1/30/07; 1/30/07]
  • Refused to investigate Blackwater shootout in Iraq: After Blackwater came under fire for allegedly killing several Iraqi civilians in September 2007, Lieberman refused to hold oversight hearings on the matter. “You’ve got to set your own priorities, and it was clear to me that other committees were going to pick this up,” said Lieberman. [10/10/07]

Perhaps the most egregious instance of Lieberman's reactionary agenda in Homeland Security, though, has been the way he has pushed Jane Harman's misbegotten "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007". Lieberman has managed to twist it into a legal tool for harassing American Muslims while simultaneously ignoring the ongoing, and very real, threat of right-wing domestic terrorism.

Considering that the FBI's own terrorism experts now are increasingly concerned about the threat of far-right-wing domestic terrorism rising in the context of an Obama presidency, this is a blind spot that will be simply unacceptable in a Homeland Security Committee chair -- especially one who already has a track record of ignoring inconvenient issues that properly bear congressional inquiry.

America can't afford to have Joe Lieberman chairing its Homeland Security Committee any longer. That, and not simple revenge for his disloyalty, is the reason Democrats need to think long and hard before letting those bygones be.

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