WASHINGTON — President-elect Obama is steering clear of getting involved in one fight on Capitol Hill: whether Senate Democrats should remove Joe Lieberman as chairman of an important committee.
Lieberman's affiliation with Democrats is in question after the Connecticut independent's high-profile support of Republican John McCain for president.
Lieberman has met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, but there has been no word on whether Reid intends to try to oust Lieberman as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
"What happens on the House and Senate, on chairmanship is their business," Obama's incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, said Sunday. "But the business of what we have to do when we get sworn in is focusing on what the American people care about. Priority one is the economy."
Lieberman pledged last week to put partisan considerations aside and work with Obama. Lieberman, who was Al Gore's running mate in 2000, was re-elected to the Senate from Connecticut in 2006 as an independent after losing his state's Democratic primary. He remains a registered Democrat and aligns himself with Senate Democrats.
"Joe Lieberman has done something that I think was improper, wrong, and I'd like _ if we weren't on television, I'd use a stronger word of describing what he did. But Joe Lieberman votes with me a lot more than a lot of my senators," Reid said in an interview broadcast Sunday.
"He didn't support us on military stuff and he didn't support us on Iraq stuff. But you look at his record, it's pretty good. He comes from one of the most liberal states in the country. ... Joe Lieberman is not some right wing nut case. Joe Lieberman is one of the most progressive people ever to come from the state of Connecticut," Reid said.
Meantime, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is talking to Lieberman about the possibility of Lieberman's caucusing with the GOP.
In the past, Democrats tolerated Lieberman's political straddling because he held their slim political majority in his hands. Now that Democrats have strengthened their hold on the Senate, there could be added pressure to punish Lieberman.
Emanuel spoke on ABC's "This Week," while Reid appeared on CNN's "Late Edition."