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Colleagues May Decide Lieberman’s Fate

In trying to remain chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) will likely have to make his plea directly to his Senate Democratic colleagues when they reconvene during the lame-duck session on Nov. 17.

One Senate Democratic leadership aide said Friday the issue was “likely to be addressed by the caucus as a whole” on Nov. 18 during the Democrats’ regular Tuesday policy lunch. It was unclear whether the issue would actually come to a vote, but leadership sources and a Lieberman aide said it was possible.

Sources said they expected Lieberman to launch some sort of lobbying campaign to ensure that if the issue does come to a tally, he has enough support to continue on as chairman.

So far, the Lieberman aide said, the embattled chairman has not made a concerted effort to shore up support in the Democratic Conference. However, the aide said, “If it comes to that, he will make the argument” that he should stay. Lieberman plans to argue that he helped write the bill that created the Department of Homeland Security following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and has the expertise needed to oversee the agency now.

He may also make the point that he remained a member of the Democratic Conference, even after many of his colleagues endorsed his primary challenger in 2006. Lieberman lost the primary to Ned Lamont but later won election as an Independent. Lieberman’s decision to remain in the Democratic ranks gave the party its majority-making 51st vote.

Lieberman enraged many in his party by endorsing Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and then breaking his pledge to refrain from criticizing President-elect Obama. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told him that he wanted Lieberman to relinquish the gavel. However, Lieberman pushed back.

“The only thing he’s said ‘no’ to is the notion of giving up Homeland Security,” said the Lieberman aide. “If he gave that up, it would be putting political retribution before homeland security.”

However, the aide noted: “He’s not saying ‘no’ to anything else.” That includes a recent entreaty from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to join the Republican Conference.

During his meeting with Reid on Thursday, the Majority Leader told Lieberman that he might be able to chair a “lesser committee,” but not the Homeland Security panel, according to the Lieberman aide.

The Lieberman aide declined to expand on which lesser committee Reid had offered, but Lieberman is actually in line to chair the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, which is one of the lowest-profile panels in the chamber. Because the current chairman, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), is expected to take over the Foreign Relations panel next year, the Small Business gavel would be up for the taking. Both Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who are ahead of Lieberman in seniority, chair more powerful panels — making the Connecticut Independent next in seniority.

Beyond Lieberman’s seniority on Small Business, aides suggested Reid also may have offered him Veterans’ Affairs or plum subcommittee chairmanships on other panels.

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