ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
We speak of senators sitting on one side of the isle or the other, being to the left or on the right of their party, but those simple directional signals don't suffice to block the political position of Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. He is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. If he didn't, the Democrats would lose their majority.
He is more conservative than nearly all Democrats on the war in Iraq, but he's more liberal than many of them on many domestic issues. He was Al Gore's running mate. He ran for vice president in 2000. But he is supporting John McCain for president this year, and he joins us today from Capitol Hill. Welcome to the program, Senator Lieberman.
Senator JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut): Thank you, Robert. Good to be with you.
SIEGEL: First, will you speak at the Republican National Convention?
Senator LIEBERMAN: I don't know. I've said when asked earlier in the year by somebody in the media, I said, you know, I'm in this because I believe in John McCain. Because I think he is the person who's best prepared to lead the country forward for the next four years. If he asks me and thinks I can help him, sure, I'd consider it. But then that's about as far as it's gone.
SIEGEL: But in giving it consideration, do you calculate any line whatever in your support of John McCain that would constitute a de facto breech with the Democratic Party that you don't want to make.
Senator LIEBERMAN: I went through an experience in 2006. Denied the nomination - re-nomination by my Democratic Party in Connecticut, I decided to run as an independent. The people of Connecticut were wonderful to me and reelected me, gave me the privilege of being a United States senator.
And to me, one of the contributions I think I can make to my country is just to do what I think is right or sensible on every issue, not to feel that I have to march in lockstep with the political party that I've been affiliated with throughout my lifetime, the Democratic Party. And in that sense, to try to make a statement here about the need to break out of the partisan gridlock. I supported John McCain in December, Robert, because he asked me. And I thought about it, and I just thought, one, he is ready to be commander in chief and lead us in the world, but, two, more than any other candidate, John McCain has consistently reached across party lines to get things done for our country. And that's what we need in the White House.
SIEGEL: For many people, though, who follow these things, it's mostly about the war. It's mostly about your relationship with John McCain and the issue of the war. Is it fair to say that the war in Iraq is the biggest issue with which you agree with John McCain and differ with the Democrats?
Senator LIEBERMAN: It's a big issue, and there's no question that if I had to cite a single reason, for instance, why I was defeated in Connecticut in the Democratic primary, it would be the position I've taken on the war.
But Senator McCain and I agree on almost every aspect of our foreign policy. Not just in Iraq, not just in the war on terrorism, but in Europe, in Asia, and Latin America, and incidentally, John and I have worked together to create the 9/11 commission. We've worked together on lobbying on ethics reform, of course, we worked together on climate change. So we agree on a lot of different issues. The conduct of the war in Iraq is one of them.
SIEGEL: I want you to just think ahead with us for a little moment to next January after the elections. We don't know what's going to happen in any of them. But let's assume that the Democrats pick up, let's say, three seats net in the U.S. Senate, and you're voting with the caucus. It's not necessary to maintain the majority.
What do you say to some of your colleagues who say having campaigned for John McCain, having been the head of citizens for McCain, perhaps by that time, I've been - we don't know spoken at the convention. Joe Lieberman is a good guy. We agree on him on lots of things, but he's not a Democrat. He shouldn't even sit with the Democrats anymore and no more chairmanship. How do you argue against that?
Senator LIEBERMAN: Well, look, I've thought about that, and the first thing I've decided is that I'm going to do now what I think is right. I'm not going to calculate what effect it will have on me in the future. If you ask me what my answer would be to my colleagues, then I will say, my dear friends, this is a choice for you to make. I have been a Democrat all my life. I remain a Democrat. I asked to be judged on the job, on my record, and the job that I've done, but the choice is yours.
SIEGEL: But in this time especially, being in the minority is a lot different from being the chair of the Senate Committee. I mean, I can't imagine you would be indifferent to the outcome of your brother senators' decision in that case.
Senator LIEBERMAN: Well, I can't say I'd be indifferent, but honestly, I don't fear it because to me, supporting John McCain because I feel this election is so important. I'm going to do what I think is best for the country. I'm going to put this McCain - others say of McCain, I say of McCain, he puts the country first. And supporting him, that's what I'm trying to do, and I'll live with whatever the consequences are.
SIEGEL: Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, thank you very much for talking to us.
Sen. LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Robert.
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