12/17/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Senate Dems Should Make Tough Deal With Joe-Lieb: You Can Keep Your Chairmanship If You Vote to Advance Democratic Agenda

First things first--I find Joe Lieberman to be despicable. He had a right to support John McCain, just as a number of prominent Republicans had a right to support Barack Obama. But his personal attacks on Barack Obama's patriotism--after promising that he would campaign positively for John McCain but not negatively against Obama--were outrageous and unprincipled. I became all but nauseous as I repeatedly watched him and Cindy McCain flank John McCain at campaign rallies--like two praetorian guards--while they chanted "drill, baby, drill" along with the rabid crowds.

Second, Congressional Democrats must be able to exercise discipline over their caucus if they hope to bring about the change they and President-elect Obama promised the country during the election campaign. When Republicans controlled Congress, they were quite successful in maintaining discipline in their caucus and passing President Bush's agenda--Democrats should do no less. The Democratic Leadership must exact a price against nominal Democratic Senators and Representatives who vote to block key parts of theirs and Obama's legislative agenda, particularly against Democratic Senators who vote with Republicans to filibuster key pieces of legislation, thus preventing them from even coming to a vote. (Even here, however, there must be some flexibility--Democrats from conservative districts should be allowed to occasionally stray, particularly if their votes don't matter in whether or not a piece of legislation reaches the floor or passes.)

Third, I'm a political pragmatist. When it comes to Joe Lieberman, my heart yearns for political retribution. But my head says that what matters most is not what he's said in the past but how he votes in the future. If Senate Democratic leaders can trade Lieberman keeping his Homeland Security Committee Chairmanship for an enforceable pledge that he not participate in blocking the Democratic and Obama agenda, then they should do so. But if Lieberman has the ability to continue to freelance and effectively ally with Republicans to block the Democratic agenda, then discipline must be enforced and he must be stripped of his Chairmanship.

So here's a possible deal. In return for being allowed for the time being to keep his Chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Lieberman would have to give Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid an undated irrevocable letter of resignation from his Chairmanship. * Sen. Reid would have the right to date the letter, making the resignation automatically and immediately effective, if at any time Lieberman votes to uphold a Republican filibuster, or votes against legislation supported by President Obama and the Democratic Senate leaderships, if his vote is the deciding vote in determining whether the filibuster is upheld or whether the legislation is passed.

If Lieberman can be effectively handcuffed from helping block the Democratic agenda, then let the miserable SOB keep his Chairmanship. If he won't agree to that, of if the agreement isn't legally enforceable, then he should be punished for his despicable behavior and stripped of his Committee Chairmanship, both as a matter of principle, and as a matter of maintaining a disciplined Democratic caucus that will implement the change that we have believed in and voted for.


*I suggest the mechanism of an undated irrevocable letter of resignation in order to insure that it would actually be possible to force Lieberman out of his Committee Chairmanship if he breaks his pledge not to block the Democratic agenda. As reported Friday in the Huffington Post, it normally takes a Senate resolution to involuntarily remove a Committee Chairman and such a resolution itself could be subject to a Republican filibuster making it impossible for Senate Democrats to remove Lieberman for siding with Republicans. Such an undated irrevocable resignation letter might be a way around this rule. Senate Democratic leaders should, however, get an opinion of counsel that such a letter would be effective before adopting this solution.