Why Is Joe Lieberman Joining the Czar Hunters?

The independent senator may be risking his White House political capital, and the support of left-leaning constituents

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Sen. Joe Lieberman, the independent who joined Al Gore on the Democratic presidential ticket in 2000, seems an unlikely figure to team up with Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann. But Lieberman has taken up one of their causes by proposing to hold hearings on Obama's roster of "czars"--policy advisors who have provoked wild attacks and conspiracies. Why would Lieberman, whose biggest electoral concern is appealing to his left-leaning constituents in Connecticut, take such a risk? And why does the White House keep him as an ally?

  • Democrats Will Regret Protecting Lieberman Greg Sargent notes the complicated history between Lieberman and Democrats. "Since this will confer legitimacy on an attack that has mostly emanated from Glenn Beck and the hothouse right, it could prompt an 'I told you so' chorus from those who argued that Lieberman should be stripped of his committee slots," he writes, referencing earlier controversy over whether Democrats should strip Lieberman of his role as chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The threat, retaliation against Lieberman's support of McCain in the 2008 presidential election, was never carried out. "In fairness, we don't know what Lieberman's goals are; his spokesperson declined to clarify. Still, the fact that Lieberman is mulling hearings at all is likely to provoke objections."
  • Where Was He During Bush Administration? Steve Benen questions Lieberman's motives. "Why hold another hearing, unless the goal is to validate the paranoid fears of right-wing activists? But this is especially galling in light of Lieberman's record as head of the Senate committee on government affairs. In 2006, when running for re-election, Lieberman vowed to voters that he would use his committee chairmanship to hold the Bush administration accountable," Benen write. "Despite the Bush/Cheney administration being among the most scandal-plagued in generations, Lieberman, who had oversight responsibilities, 'conducted zero proactive investigations into Bush administration malfeasance.' [...] But nine months into a Democratic administration, Lieberman has rediscovered his interest in oversight."
  • White House Quid Pro Quo With Lieberman Adam Serwer suggests Lieberman may earn protection from the White House by helping it to maintain its secrecy on torture. The White House refuses to release CIA torture documents, a policy controversial among liberals but easier for the moderate Lieberman to promote. "A number of liberals have questioned whether Lieberman deserves to keep his gavel after the 'czar' stunt, but it's clear he's still earning points with the White House even if he isn't winning any from civil libertarians." Serwer explains: "The administration, perhaps sensing that they're not really on solid legal ground when it comes to arguing that the government should be able to hide evidence of its own wrongdoing under the rubric of national security, is getting a little cover from Congress. Yesterday, the conference summary of the current homeland security appropriations bill indicates that an amendment from Senator Joe Lieberman that would exempt the photos from the FOIA Act has been adopted, which means that if the bill is passed, the government could legally withhold the pictures."

    Serwer later tweeted, "How is Lieberman's keeping his gavel? Maybe it's cuz he's helping the White House suppress torture photos."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.