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Posted by on Jun 5, 2008 in Politics | 17 comments

It’s Joe Lieberman Versus Barack Obama (UPDATED)


Now that Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton is exiting the Democratic Presidential nomination sweepstakes, the Democrats’ presumptive nominee Senator Barack Obama faces smooth sailing from prominent Democrats right? Not quite.

Because it now appears Obama is going to face political sniping from that man progressive Democrats love to hate, Connecticut Independent Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman. And it appears as if Obama doesn’t intent to take that criticism lying down. Literally.

Note this intriguing item carried in the indispensable political news digest site Political Wire:

Roll Call reports that during a Senate vote today, Sen. Barack Obama “dragged” Sen. Joe Lieberman “by the hand to a far corner of the Senate chamber and engaged in what appeared to reporters in the gallery as an intense, three-minute conversation.”

“While it was unclear what the two were discussing, the body language suggested that Obama was trying to convince Lieberman of something and his stance appeared slightly intimidating.”

“Using forceful, but not angry, hand gestures, Obama literally backed up Lieberman against the wall, leaned in very close at times, and appeared to be trying to dominate the conversation, as the two talked over each other in a few instances.”

“Still, Obama and Lieberman seemed to be trying to keep the back-and-forth congenial as they both patted each other on the back during and after the exchange. Afterwards, Obama smiled and pointed up at reporters peering over the edge of the press gallery for a better glimpse of their interaction.”

What could Obama possibly have to discuss so forcefully with Lieberman? A few things.

Obama is said to have a problem with Jewish voters, although a recent poll suggests this may not be a problem in November. Still, with Lieberman attacking him, essentially taking on the role of the Zell Miller of 2008, it could hurt Obama’s efforts to make inroads with Jewish voters. Lieberman is also openly supporting McCain and traveled with him so much the past few months and clarified several of McCain’s remarks to the extent that one local radio talk show host said Lieberman was McCain’s “translator.”

Could Obama have been talking with McCain yesterday about something like this (which also happened yesterday):

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), a McCain supporter, challenged Sen. Barack Obama’s judgment and experience on Israel and national security issues, following the Illinois senator’s speech this morning at the influential pro-Israel lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, conference in Washington. Lieberman said there was “a disconnect between some of the things [Obama] said today” and some of his past statements.

“To be specific, I was troubled earlier in the campaign season when Sen. Obama compared Iran and other rogue and terrorist states to the Soviet Union, and minimized the threat represented by Iran. I think that’s wrong. Today he said he thought Iran represented a grave threat. I think the statement he made today was right.”

Lieberman brought up Obama’s opposition to the Kyl-Lieberman amendment that labeled the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, pointing out it was supported by 29 Democratic senators. The amendment passed 76-22.

“That measure was supported by three-fourths of the Senate, including Sens. Reid, Schumer, Durbin and Clinton. Sen. Obama opposed it, saying it was saber-rattling referring to the threat of military force. If you look at the Kyl-Lieberman amendment as it was passed, it has none of that in it regarding military action. I still hope he will say that vote was a mistake and he will support that resolution.”

Lieberman also challenged Obama’s assertions that U.S. policies have had a negative impact on Israel’s security.

This article in the Washington Independent notes that relations between Obama and Lieberman, though cordial enough, are strained. The reason: he “supported Lieberman’s 2006 Democratic challenger Ned Lamont, which Lieberman certainly hasn’t forgotten.” (SEE UPDATE: ABC NEWS SAYS THAT IS INACCURATE) Look for McCain to use Lieberman a lot during the campaign because he is doubly symbolic: because he represents the Democratic party’s greatly-diminished Scoop Jackson wing and is a high-profile Jewish American.

Aside from getting right in Lieberman’s face, does Obama have a strategy to counter Lieberman’s likely role?

UPDATE: ABC’s Political Punch provides more details and says it was indeed an Obama rebuke:

The two spoke intensely for approximately five minutes, with no one able to hear their conversation. Reporters watched as Obama leaned closely in to Lieberman, whose back was literally up against the wall.

Neither party is officially talking. But while Lieberman spokesman Marshall Whitman says the conversation was “a cordial and friendly discussion” and Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton says it was “private and friendly,” Democratic sources tell ABC News that the conversation was a stern rebuke to Lieberman for his criticism of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee on the conference call, as well as a discussion about how far Lieberman is willing to go in his advocacy of McCain, and the tone of the campaign.

“It’s one thing to support McCain,” said one Democratic source, “but many think Uncle Joe has gone too far.”

Obama campaigned for Lieberman in 2006 when he was challenged (and ultimately defeated) in his primary race for his Senate seat. When Lieberman opted to run as an independent, Obama stayed out of the race, unlike other Democrats, such as Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who endorsed nominee Ned Lamont.

And, ABC’s blog goes on to say, some Democrats think Lieberman is now going too far:

“Its a difficult situation,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, the Senate Democrats’ Assistant Majority Leader and a major Obama backer, told reporters Wednesday, according to Roll Call. “Joe is my friend … but I hope he doesn’t become the lead attack dog. Of course it’s a concern when someone in your Caucus is supporting the other party’s candidate. Let’s not try and sugarcoat it.”

Lieberman agreed to caucus with the Democrats, who need his vote in the narrowly-divided Senate, in order to maintain power. But the Nutmeg stater is testing the patience of Democratic leaders by endorsing McCain and agreeing to speak at the Republican National Convention in September. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told MSNBC they would “watch very closely” how far Lieberman takes his advocacy.

But Obama may feel Lieberman has already taken it too far.

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