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Lieberman Gets To Keep Committee Chairmanship

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

On top of the Senate seat they're adding, Democrats decided to keep Joe Lieberman. They decided the independent senator could keep his committee chairmanship even though he campaigned for Republican John McCain. Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA: Because of Senator Lieberman's support for Republican John McCain, many Democrats felt he no longer deserved the chairmanship he'd been given on the Homeland Security Committee. That perk kept him firmly in the fold of Democrats, which in turn just barely gave them majority control of the Senate over the past two years. When it came time to decide behind closed doors whether to strip Lieberman of his prized chairmanship, Democrats secretly voted 42-13 to let him keep it. His only sanction was being removed from the Environment Committee. Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was very satisfied with this outcome.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): I feel good about what we did today. I don't apologize to anyone, what we did today. We're moving forward, recognizing that there is a period of time that - in Joe Lieberman's political career that I will never understand or approve.

WELNA: But one thing Democrats do understand is that Lieberman can still be of great use to them. On Election Day, they picked up six more seats. With Lieberman still in their ranks, Senate Democrats could be very close to the 60-vote majority they need to stave off filibusters. Lieberman had earlier threatened to quit caucusing with the Democrats if he lost his chairmanship. He called yesterday's resolution fair and forward-leaning.

Senator JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut; Chairman, Homeland Security Committee): It's a resolution that not only resolves the current dilemma, but it's a resolution of reconciliation and not retribution, and I appreciate it.

WELNA: The resolution strongly decries statements Lieberman made about President-elect Obama during the campaign. Lieberman said yesterday that there were some campaign statements he'd made that he wished had been more clear.

Senator LIEBERMAN: And there are some that I made that I wish I had not made at all. And obviously in the heat of the campaigns, that happens to all of us. But I regret that. And now it's time to move on.

WELNA: Democrats who voted for the resolution on Lieberman also agreed it was time to move on. Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar was one of them.

Senator AMY KLOBUCHAR (Democrat, Minnesota): This was difficult for our caucus. People talked about some of the things that bothered them that Senator Lieberman had said about Senator Obama, and he said that he regretted some of those comments. But in the end, this was about reconciliation, instead of revenge.

WELNA: Pennsylvania's Bob Casey, an early supporter of the president-elect, also voted for the resolution, even though he said he was both angry and frustrated with Lieberman.

Senator BOB CASEY (Democrat, Pennsylvania): People will judge him as he goes forward. I don't think there is any list of rules that he's got to follow. He's going to have to figure that out. But I think people will be watching.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.