It’s just days into the 113th Congress and there’s already a shadow over the Hill.
Lawmakers come and go, and that’s the nature of the political beast. But missing in the halls of the Capitol is a senator who had served in the upper chamber since 1989.
And it’s hard not to miss Joe Lieberman, the 70-year-old Democrat-turned-independent from Connecticut, who retired last week.
“When I started here in the Senate, a BlackBerry was a fruit and tweeting was something only birds did,” Lieberman quipped in his farewell speech last month.
He reminisced about how he first stepped in the chamber as an intern nearly 50 years ago, in the summer of 1963 — “inspired, like so many of my generation, by President John F. Kennedy and his call to service.”
“And although I would never have admitted so publicly back then, because it was so presumptuous, I came away from that experience with the dream that I might someday, somehow, return to serve in this place,” Lieberman said. “Well, I have been blessed to live that dream. And that is what America is about.”
When he ended his terms in the Senate, Lieberman had made a number of foes out of party-mates who were supposed to be his friends, simply for believing that a caucus meeting didn’t mean one left his personal convictions at the door.
A few things to miss about Lieberman:
He put his friends before party. “The Three Amigos” was a cutesy way to refer to Lieberman, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), but the brothers in national security policy really were an example to the rest of the chamber. When McCain ran for president in 2008, he nearly tapped Lieberman as his running mate. But more importantly, he had the support of his friend no matter what.
Boy, did he have the support: Lieberman spoke for his buddy at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. “In the Senate, during the 3 1/2 years that Sen. Obama has been a member, he has not reached across party lines to … accomplish anything significant, nor has he been willing to take on powerful interest groups in the Democratic Party to get something done,” Lieberman told the excited GOP delegates.
In return, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) threatened to strip Lieberman of his Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chairmanship. Lieberman — clearly the most qualified for that job — mostly survived the petty retribution attempt, keeping his chairmanship but getting kicked off the Environment and Public Works Committee. There’s just something about a politician who will lay down his chairmanship for the sake of a friend.
He stuck it to the party and stayed independent. After besting anti-war Democratic chosen one Ned Lamont as an independent in 2006, Lieberman remained cordial with the Democratic caucus — yet kept that “I” after his name. He somewhat caucused with the Dems, but after what they did to him in 2008 he stopped attending caucus lunches or strategy sessions. Of course, he was still subjected to silly tantrums like when Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), presiding over the upper chamber one day in 2009, cut off a Lieberman speech by both casting the objection for the senator’s request to continue and approving it as presiding officer. McCain, of course, took to the floor in defense of his friend. “That’s how the comity in this body has deteriorated,” McCain told reporters afterward. “We got to stop – we got to stop this kind of behavior. I’ve never seen anything like it. And I hope that I don’t see it again.”