April 26, 2009 - 5:06 pm
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has written a new chapter in the upcoming paperback version of his autobiography, “The Good Fight: Hard Lessons from Searchlight to Washington.” It includes details about Reid’s relationship with President Obama and Sen. Joe Lieberman.
WASHINGTON— Two days after the elections last November, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Sen. Joseph Lieberman he would be stripped of his Homeland Security Committee chairmanship, punishment for trashing Barack Obama at the Republican National Convention.
Facing down livid calls from activists for the Connecticut senator to be expelled from the Democratic caucus altogether for supporting John McCain’s candidacy, Reid had decided to “cut Lieberman some slack” with a lesser sentence.
But in a tense private meeting on Nov. 6, Lieberman told Reid he could not accept losing his chairmanship. He hinted he might jump to the Republicans.
“What are the Republicans going to give you?" Reid asked.
“They’ll give me nothing. But I have to stand for something. I just can’t do it.” Lieberman said, leaving Reid to ponder the impasse.
Reid disclosed details from the closed-door meeting and his thoughts as he struggled with the Lieberman affair in a new chapter he is adding to his autobiography, “The Good Fight: Hard Lessons from Searchlight to Washington.”
A paperback edition with the new material is scheduled to be published on May 5, according to Reid’s office, which made a copy available.
Written in January as a 15-page epilogue entitled “The Obama Era,” Reid in the chapter also discusses his relationship with the new president, a closer partnership than previously known.
Reid said early in 2007 he encouraged Obama to run, telling him , “If you want to be president, you can be president now.”
He also seeks to turn the page past the eight-year presidency of George W. Bush, who he has called “the worst president we’ve ever had,” and whose policies he battled incessantly.
“When you view government as first and foremost an ideological battleground, as a laboratory for your theories, rather than as a way to meet real challenges and solve real problems, then you get what has happened the last eight years,” Reid wrote.
If Democrats do not govern differently, “we will have taken no good lessons from the bad experience of the Bush years,” he wrote. “If we do not govern differently then we do not deserve to govern.”
Reid’s handling of Lieberman was his first test following Obama’s victory and Democratic triumphs on Election Day that greatly increased the Nevadan’s power as Senate leader. The political world was riveted with speculation as to how Lieberman might be disciplined.
Lieberman had run for vice president as a Democrat alongside Al Gore in 2000. Running for Senate re-election in 2006, he lost the party’s primary in Connecticut but ultimately won as an independent and continued to caucus with Senate Democrats.
But during last year’s presidential race, he became a top McCain adviser and his chief surrogate on the campaign trail. At the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., Lieberman enraged Democrats with a speech criticizing Obama as a man of eloquence but little experience.
“Our dilemma was that we needed to hold Lieberman accountable,” Reid wrote, “but as badly as he had behaved during the campaign it was a simple fact that apart from the war, Joe had a very solid progressive, Democratic record.”
Reid said he decided before the election to “cut Lieberman some slack,” letting him stay in the caucus but taking away his high profile chairmanship and giving him a lesser post.
But Reid continued to think it over after Lieberman said he could not accept the penalty. While Democrats now controlled close to 60 Senate seats and probably could afford to ditch a renegade, “this way of thinking bothered me,” Reid wrote.
He remembered in 1994 that Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado “quit the party in a rage” following persistent disagreements with environmentalists.
“I took the weekend after the election to think this over, and was coming to the conclusion that as angry and disappointed as I was, and as offensive as his behavior had been, I simply could not do to Joe Lieberman what had been done to Ben Nighthorse Campbell,” Reid wrote.
The verdict was not totally altruistic.
“This decision had not so much to do with forgiveness as it did with simply math,” Reid wrote. “Years of counting votes in the Senate had taught me that you never take a vote for granted.”
The outcome was cemented a few days later when Obama let it be known he did not want Lieberman punished. When Senate Democrats voted, it was 42-13 to retain him as Homeland Security chairman and impose another penalty.
“For his misbehavior, he was stripped of his seat on his favorite committee, Environment and Public Works, and that was punishment enough,” Reid wrote.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.