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Dodd Comes to Lieberman’s Defense

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) is warning Democrats not to punish his embattled home-state colleague, Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID), too harshly when they decide, possibly next week, whether Lieberman should lose his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

In a little-noticed article in the Hartford Courant this weekend, Dodd said Democratic retribution for Lieberman’s transgressions against his party should not end up penalizing the entire state of Connecticut as well.

“The question I have to ask myself is: Joe was elected by the people of this state – independents, Republicans and Democrats,” Dodd told the Courant. “Whatever anger there may exist within a party, I don’t think that ought to be visited on the people of the state, and they shouldn’t be asked to pay a price for people’s political decisions.”

It was unclear whether Dodd was talking about Democrats wresting Lieberman of his Homeland Security chairmanship or whether he was speaking more generally about kicking Lieberman out of Conference, which would effectively strip him of all his committee assignments and seniority.

Dodd also questioned whether President-elect Obama wants to have a nasty inter-party fight coming off of what was otherwise considered an uplifting 2008 election.

“What does Barack Obama want?” Dodd said. “He’s talked about reconciliation, healing, bringing people together. I don’t think he’d necessarily want to spend the first month of this president-elect period … talking about a Senate seat, particularly if someone is willing to come forward and is willing to be a member of your family in the caucus in that sense.”

Dodd’s comments come as a surprise given the rocky relationship that the two Connecticut Senators have had in recent years. Dodd endorsed anti-war Democrat Ned Lamont after Lamont bested Lieberman in the 2006 primary. Lieberman subsequently won re-election as an independent.

Then, Lieberman endorsed Republican presidential candidate John McCain (Ariz.) when Dodd was still a primary contender for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Dodd dropped out after failing to register support in the Iowa caucuses.

Anger in the Democratic Conference over Lieberman’s endorsement of McCain and his aggressive criticism of Obama’s candidacy prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to threaten to take away his chairmanship last week. Reid offered Lieberman the gavel of a “lesser” committee, an offer Lieberman appears to have rejected. The two Senators have agreed to continue their discussions, but in the meantime, Reid has said he may let the entire caucus decide Lieberman’s fate when they return next week for a lame-duck session.

Dodd told the Courant that he talked to Lieberman several times Thursday and that Lieberman said he would like to remain a member of the Democratic Conference. However, Lieberman has not ruled out bolting to the Republican Party. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has reached out to Lieberman in recent days, and other prominent GOP Senators have said they would welcome him warmly in their ranks.

However, all signs point to Lieberman staying put, including with him mounting a lobbying campaign to keep his Homeland Security gavel. He has reached out to his close friends in the Democratic ranks, including fellow moderate Sens. Ken Salazar (Colo.) and Tom Carper (Del.), according to sources. It was unclear whether Salazar or Carper had offered to help Lieberman or advocate on his behalf, but sources said Lieberman was in the process of taking the temperature of the Conference to see how deep the anger against him runs before he decides whether to ask for a vote on his chairmanship status.

Obama also has weighed in with a call to Reid, expressing his hope that Lieberman would remain in the Democratic Party. Obama did not directly address the issue of whether Lieberman should retain his chairmanship, however, sources said.

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