Saturday, August 26, 2006

Reporting Accurately on Reid's Options With Lieberman

The Progressive blog world has been on fire this week with tales of Senator Joe Lieberman campaigning for Republicans in Connecticut. But, as Stephen Elliott said Friday in the Huffington Post, it may or may not be accurate, depending on how you view Lieberman's public appearance with Republican candidates Jodi Rell (Governor) and Rob Simmons (House of Representatives) at a gathering to celebrate the Groton submarine base surviving years of national military-base closures.

So is something like this "campaigning" with Republicans or isn’t it? Frankly, if I were on Rell's staff, I would worry that appearing with Lieberman would make her look too conservative but, as the Hartford Courant said simply on Thursday, "Lieberman will appear with two prominent Republicans, Gov. M. Jodi Rell and U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd, to celebrate last year's reversal of a Pentagon decision to close the Groton submarine base."

Does a mere appearance to celebrate some very good news for the people of Connecticut -- even with GOP candidates there -- mean that Lieberman is campaigning with them? Simmons certainly didn’t waste too much time hawking his appearance at the Groton base on, yes, his campaign web site, so one could indeed reasonably construe it as a campaign event.

And I can also understand why this angers Progressives so much as we are at a time of political war, with a bit over two months until the midterm elections and, if I were a Democratic candidate, even bumping into a Republican pol at my local Starbucks would be too close for comfort.

Smarter people than me are going to have to parse through this one.

What I'm more concerned about, as your humble correspondent on the U.S. Senate, is one facet of how some Progressive bloggers are going after Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and demanding that he quickly, publicly and harshly neuter Lieberman for the pain he is causing a party that stuck with him for so many years.

Make no mistake about it: Joe Lieberman has crossed the line in so many ways that, lengthy friendships and Senate collegiality aside, it's time for all Senate Democrats to drop the hammer on Joe and publicly renounce him remaining in a race from which he was legitimately booted by Democratic voters in Connecticut. Lieberman is doing everything he can to undermine the national Democratic party and he is hurting Democratic House candidates in his state, and all for the glorification of an ego and a sense of political entitlement that have spun entirely out of control.

Joe needs to go -- and quickly.

And, while many of the calls for harsh action from Reid may be righteous, bloggers castigating him for not stripping Lieberman of his committee assignments -- especially his standing as ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee -- and urging their readers to call Reid's office to harangue him about this, are simply wrong and not reporting accurately on what is or is not within Reid's authority.

Based on the way the Senate works procedurally, this is simply not something that Reid even has the authority to do.

Let me break down why that is.

The membership in Senate committees is decided at the start of every Congress with a haggled-out thing called an "organizing resolution." The entire Senate votes on it and it usually passes by unanimous consent. Organizing resolutions can also happen when party shake-ups occur in the middle of a Congress, like when Vermont's Jim Jeffords bolted from the GOP in 2001.

To give Joe his well-deserved comeuppance by taking him off committees and effectively making him the most junior member of the Senate, Reid would have to formally propose an amendment to the current organizing resolution, manage to get it to a vote and then get every Democrat and a handful of Republicans to vote for a new committee organization sans Lieberman. If Majority Leader Bill Frist decided to filibuster Reid's action, 60 votes would be required to keep it alive.

Based on that procedural construct, Harry Reid can't just unilaterally, or even by a closed vote of the Democratic caucus, strip Lieberman of his committee assignments.

In short, it ain't gonna happen. Even if Reid were to go way out on a limb like this and even if he were to get all Senate Democrats to make such a big move, I stand a better chance of getting a hot date with Salma Hayek then there is of even one Republican voting with them to boot Joe.

While not the most exciting reading in the world, the organizing resolutions for the current (109th) Senate are here for the Republicans and here for Democrats if you would like to see what this process looks like.

I'm just finishing Helen Thomas's excellent book, "Watchdogs of Democracy?" which, like Eric Boehlert's superb "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush," indicts a corporate media that has become too much like stenographers and not enough like real reporters, dealing in facts and doing the legwork to acquire the truth.

Progressive political writers should be tough and aggressive, while making sure that we don’t make the same mistakes as the corporate media we so roundly criticize and, in the process, appear so shrill that our own message becomes as suspect.

You can reach Bob Geiger at