DENVER — Connecticut delegates are demanding that party leaders punish Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-Independent, because of his support of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the Republican nominee.
“There has to be some kind of penalty for this sort of thing,” said Martha Aasen, a delegate from Westport, Conn.
“He’s a traitor to his party,” said Jennifer Just, a delegate from Woodbridge.
But Democratic senators’ anger toward Lieberman has been tempered by the tens of thousands of dollars he has given to their fundraising committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).
of his association with the Democratic Conference. Although Lieberman now considers himself an Independent, he still sits in on Democratic caucus meetings.
Democrats have been leery of punishing Lieberman because it is only his informal allegiance that gives them a majority in the Senate by one vote. If he caucused with the Republicans, there would be a 50-50 split in the chamber and Vice President Dick Cheney as Senate president would tip the balance of power to Republicans through his tie-breaking votes.
But because Democrats expect to pick up five seats or more in the November election — in which case they would not need Lieberman so much — many think the time has come to dispense with him. Rank-and-file Democrats expect their leaders in Washington to dish out retribution once the majority is secured.
“I can’t wait until we expand our majority in the Senate so he can be stripped of his committee,” said Just, the Woodbridge delegate.
Just accused Lieberman of making “an end-run around the political process” by running as an Independent in the 2006 general election after losing to businessman Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary.
“It smacked of being a sore loser,” she said.
A Lieberman aide declined to comment.
House Democrats have also called for punishment. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) slammed Lieberman during a radio interview this month.
“Joe Lieberman has said things that are totally irresponsible when it comes to Barack Obama,” Pelosi told a San Francisco radio station.
Pelosi said that if Democrats capture more Senate seats, “They won’t need him to make the majority. And it will be interesting to see what the leadership in the Senate, the Democratic leadership in the Senate, does at that point in terms of Joe Lieberman’s chairmanship of his committee.”
But Lieberman’s colleagues have been much more charitable, noting his financial support of the DSCC and his agreement with the party on many domestic issues.
Despite standing only 20 yards away from the Connecticut delegates who criticized Lieberman harshly, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) defended his home-state colleague Wednesday.
Dodd said that Lieberman had given $250,000 to help Democratic Senate candidates win election this fall.
“He gave $250,000 to the DSCC a week and a half ago,” said Dodd. “He’s been very helpful to Democrats.
Dodd said Lieberman feels strongly about McCain’s policy on the Iraq war and otherwise agrees with Democrats on “95 percent” of issues.
Dodd also noted that he would not be the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee if Lieberman sided with the Senate Republicans; instead, Republican Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.) would head the powerful panel.
A Lieberman aide said his boss gave only $100,000 to the committee earlier this month and another $100,000 to the committee last year. Public records show that Lieberman also gave $30,000 from his leadership political action committee, bringing his total contributions to $230,000 for this election cycle.
Democrats from Lieberman’s home state don’t care about his financial gifts, however. They’re especially angry about the relish he shows while touting McCain.
“I think Joe Lieberman is having a wonderful time,” said Aasen, the delegate from Westport. “Old-time politicians, if they don’t support their party, keep quiet.”
Shawn Wooden, a delegate from Hartford, agreed with his fellow delegates.
“If the Democrats are in control in terms of leadership next year, a Democrat should chair that committee,” he said, in reference to the Homeland Security panel. “Clearly, he’s not a Democrat.”