McCain backer Lieberman keeps committee chair

WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Lieberman will keep his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee despite hard feelings over his support for GOP nominee John McCain during the presidential campaign.

The Connecticut independent will lose a panel post on the Environment and Public Works panel as punishment for criticizing Obama this fall.

Lieberman's colleagues in the Democratic caucus voted 42-13 Tuesday to approve a resolution condemning statements made by Lieberman during the campaign but allowing him to keep the Homeland Security Committee gavel.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he had been very angry by Lieberman's actions but that "we're looking forward, we're not looking back."

Added Reid: "This was not a time for retribution, it was a time for moving forward on the problems of this country."

Lieberman's grasp on his chairmanship had gotten stronger since President-elect Barack Obama signaled to Democratic leaders that he's not interested in punishing Lieberman for boosting McCain and criticizing Obama during the long campaign.

"This is the beginning of a new chapter, and I know that my colleagues in the Senate Democratic Caucus were moved not only by the kind words that Senator Reid said about my longtime record, but by the appeal from President-elect Obama himself that the nation now unite to confront our very serious problems," Lieberman said after the vote.

Anger toward Lieberman seems to have softened since Election Day, and Democrats didn't want to drive him from the Democratic caucus by taking away his chairmanship and send the wrong signals as Obama takes office on a pledge to unite the country. Lieberman had indicated it would be unacceptable for him to lose his chairmanship.

Lieberman, who was Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore's running mate in 2000, was re-elected in 2006 as an independent after losing his state's Democratic primary to Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont amid intense anti-war sentiment. Lieberman is a strong supporter of the war.

He remains a registered Democrat and aligns with the party inside the Senate, where he supports the party position on most issues other the war.

But Lieberman angered colleagues in signing onto McCain's campaign, touring the country on McCain's campaign plane and speaking on his behalf at the GOP convention in September. Democrats were particularly upset that he had attacked Obama rather than simply saying positive things about McCain.

"There are some (statements) that I made that I wish I had not," Lieberman told reporters. "In the heat of campaigns, that happens to all of us, but I regret that. And now it's time to move on."

"It's time to unite our country," said Lieberman supporter Ken Salazar, D-Colo., said entering the meeting. Salazar and Lieberman's homestate colleague Christopher Dodd led

Salazar added afterwards: "It was very clear people want Senator Lieberman to be part of the caucus."

On the other side were senators who feel that one requirement to be installed in a leadership position is party loyalty.

Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Pat Leahy, D-Vt., and Senator-elect Jeff Merkeley, D-Ore., spoke against allowing Lieberman keep the Homeland Security and Government Affairs post. Reid, Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and John Kerry, D-Mass., were among those speaking in his favor, according to a Democratic aide requiring anonymity to discuss a private meeting.

Some, like Iowan Tom Harkin, still harbor hard feelings for statements Lieberman made during the campaign. Harkin took particular offense when Lieberman said a vote against funding the war in Iraq without a deadline for a troop withdrawal meant Obama had voted to cut off funding for troops in harm's way.

"That's outrageous what he said," Harkin said.

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