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Move along, folks, the Lieberman hanging's canceled by Obama executive order

November 18, 2008 |  3:08 pm

The new White House chief of staff-designate Rahm Emanuel is a Chicago-style representative known for his tough politics, his tough language and the occasional unfriendly finger gesture.

But just weeks before the start of the historic Barack Obama administration, the last thing the boss-elect wanted was a public hanging of Connecticut's sort-of Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman for his outspoken support of the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin the last several months.

Alaska Governor and Republican Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin with one-time Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut on the 2008 presidential campaign trail

There was some support for revenge (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) among those (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) who wanted to slice away Lieberman's committee chairmanship of Homeland Security and membership on the important Armed Services Committee with McCain and Hillary Clinton.

It was the Democratic Party, you may remember, that started this fight by supporting an insurgent primary challenger of Lieberman in 2006 over the senator's support of the Iraq war in general and the Bush administration's troop surge in particular.

The insurgent won the primary but was blown away in the general, where Lieberman ran as an independent and drew on his longtime statewide name recognition as a former attorney general and senator who suits the state's moderate-to-conservative Democratic mind-set. And the Republicans tacitly supported Joe by putting up a nobody and not supporting him.

So jolly Joe returned to the Senate and the Democratic caucus, where his vote was the leverage that gave the party the 51 votes necessary to control that body.

It's one thing to support the war. It's another, however, to support Republicans, which Lieberman did big time, even speaking in prime time at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

With a newly-enlarged Democratic majority now, Joe's lone vote is less important. It came time to take him to the woodshed during this week's brief congressional session before another vacation. But how would that look as a pre-inaugural first step for a new administration pledged to change the way Washington doesn't work?

So Lieberman keeps his Homeland chairmanship, his Armed Services membership and loses a minor subcommittee chairmanship, which is like detention for a week. And life goes on.

Lieberman told reporters he appreciated colleagues' respect for his "independence of mind."

"That's who I am," said the 2000 Democratic party vice presidential nominee.

The overwhelming majority of Democrats in the caucus wanted to keep Joe on, Reid said, looking like he was not a member of that overwhelming majority but got the word from Chicago. "It's all over with," he said.

A little rump-session drama that may give an inkling of the Obama-Emanuel style to come. (For an entertaining video of a roast of Emanuel and his kick-em-between the legs political style, click here and see what Obama had to say about him way back in 2005.)

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo credit: Chris O'Meara / Associated Press

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