Leahy Says Lieberman Should Lose Gavel

Posted November 14, 2008 at 1:35pm

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) told Vermont Public Radio on Friday that he does not believe Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) should keep his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the 111th Congress.

“I’m one who does not feel that someone should be rewarded with a major chairmanship after doing what he did,” Leahy said.

Leahy was addressing a caller’s question about what Senate Democrats would do to punish Lieberman for aggressively criticizing President-elect Barack Obama this year as he campaigned for Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

Leahy, who endorsed Obama in the Democratic presidential primary, said he believes Lieberman’s comments on Obama, “went way beyond the pale.”

He added, “I thought they were not fair. I thought they were not legitimate. I thought that they perpetuated some of these horrible myths that were being circulated about Sen. Obama. I would feel that had I done something similar that I would not be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the next Congress.”

The Vermont Senator is the first Senate Democrat to come out against allowing Lieberman to retain the chairmanship since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) met with Lieberman last week. In that meeting, Reid offered to give Lieberman the chairmanship of a lesser committee in exchange for giving up the Homeland Security position, but Lieberman resisted.

Leahy said he expects the issue to come to a vote in the Senate Democratic Conference on Tuesday.

Leahy’s remarks are a departure from those of many other Democratic Senators, who have taken their cues from Obama and steered clear of definitively calling for Lieberman to lose his full committee gavel. Obama has said he would like for Lieberman to remain a member of the Senate Democratic Conference — a position that many have interpreted to also mean that he does not want Senators to punish Lieberman too harshly.

A group of four Democratic Senators have been exploring ways in which Lieberman could keep his Homeland Security chairmanship, including stripping him of some other positions such as his subcommittee chairmanships on the Environment and Public Works Committee or Armed Services panel. But so far, sources said, the four lawmakers have not been able to develop a consensus.