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How wily Joe Lieberman wends his way between McCain's GOP and Obama's Democrats

September 10, 2008 |  2:17 am

Meanwhile, back at the congressional ranch:

The Democratic boys are grumbling about their former partner and 2000 vice presidential candidate, Joe Lieberman, whom they opposed and defeated in the Connecticut party primary in 2006 because he supported President Bush's Iraq war, even though a whole bunch of other Dems did too.

But then the wily old Lieberman got re-elected there Illinois Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, Arizona Senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman an independent who caucuses with Democrats but favors Republicans like McCainanyway as an independent (with some silent Republican help) and it turned out Harry Reid really needed him to hold the slimmest of Democratic majorities (and his leader's job) on Capitol Hill.

So they let Joe caucus with them (which means they have lunch and make tons of plans, most of which never go anywhere) even though Joe still supports the Iraq war and, in fact, supports a Republican for the presidency. His former fellow Democrats can put up with that basically because they have to.

But then Lieberman agrees to speak at the Republican National Convention last week, which might be all right as long as he just praises the Republican Sen. John McCain and doesn't go too far, as in criticizing a fellow Democratic caucus member, Barack Obama, who really wants to live in the White House, even though he doesn't have a family dog yet.

But old Joe does knock new Barack. Hard. He says the ...

... very ambitious freshman from Illinois, who voted "Present" so many times in the state legislature, really, really hasn't done much at all and sure hasn't reached across the aisle like his campaign's bipartisan claims, even when Oprah isn't around.

Also in St. Paul, Joe tells 20,000 Republicans (which is a lot of golf clubs, if you think about it) and maybe 35 million TV viewers that, "Sen. Obama is a gifted and eloquent young man who can do great things for our country in the years ahead.

"But eloquence is no substitute for a record."

Ouch!

And then Lieberman says good things about the new GOP vice presidential nominee, the female governor from Alaska, who's never even been to a Georgetown cocktail party. (See Lieberman video below.)

She could make some real trouble for Democrats in many states on Nov. 4 because the previous week Obama was determined to reject a qualified female vice presidential candidate for his Democratic ticket. (And we all know who she is.)

So what are those former fellow Democrats gonna do about this rebel they created in the first place? Because, after all, they still need him real bad or else the Senate will be 50-50 and Barack's evil cousin Dick Cheney will be breaking the ties with thoroughly non-Democratic votes for the next few months?

All of which old Joe knows.

So what Harry Reid comes up with is a rebuke. Ooh, scary stuff. A Reid Rebuke, which basically means you get last lunch choice between roast beef or egg salad. Caucus rebukes have about as much clout as all those congressional ethics rules.

Independent Connecticut Senator and former Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman addresses the Republican National Convention in St. Paul on behalf of his good friend, the Arizona senator and GOP presidential nominee John McCain

And the fearless leader of that slim majority also postpones further disciplinary action until November, which means he's waiting to see how many Senate seats Democrats gain on Nov. 4. They're pretty much already counting on four to eight, which might surprise citizens who haven't voted yet. But that's the way Congress thinks.

Such gains would mean the Democrats wouldn't have to care if wily old Joe walked over to the Republican side.

But wait one minute. As the Washington Post points out, wily old Joe's very own political action committee has been very active handing out sizeable chunks of dough to former fellow Democrats just like lobbyists -- $5,000 here, another $5,000 there. A whopping $145,000 to the committee trying to elect new Democratic senators.

And another $5,000 in July to help retire the campaign debt of someone known as Joe Biden, Obama's vice presidential running mate and, quite possibly, the Senate's presiding officer as VP of a new Democratic administration come January.

Now, how would it look among the guys for such an appreciative old friend to approve retribution against good old Joe Lieberman, even if the new administration was elected to bring really real change to Washington's terribly awful ways?

There is one other possible scenario: What if, by some amazing fluke as weird as the Republicans naming a woman to their presidential ticket, the GOP ekes out a White House win?

Good old Joe would be in a great position to get pretty much any job he wanted as part of a new bipartisan administration run by another old pal who's sometimes in trouble with his party too, the senator from Arizona.

The beauty of that deal from the new administration's point of view is that old Joe's Senate replacement would be named by the governor of Connecticut, who as a Republican might reliably tend toward naming a Republican, which would reduce the Democrats' Senate caucus.

The good news for Harry Reid is, the Nevadan would then have an extra egg salad sandwich each week.

-- Andrew Malcolm

Photo credits: Associated Press (top); Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times (bottom).

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