Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman will remain as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, after Democrats voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to let him to stay despite his support for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
"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 Sen. 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.
Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he was very angered by Lieberman's actions during the presidential election but that "we're looking forward, we're not looking back."
"It's very clear that the vast majority of the Democratic Caucus wants to keep Sen. Lieberman as chairman of his committee, member of the Armed Services Committee, and that was done. It's all over with. Joe Lieberman is a Democrat. He's part of this caucus," Reid told reporters following the verdict.
Senate Democrats voted 42-to-13 to allow Lieberman to hang onto his chairmanship. The vote happened behind closed doors on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, after Lieberman defended himself before his colleagues. The Senate's only other independent, Vermont's Bernie Sanders, is one of those who thought Lieberman deserved a stronger rebuke.
"I voted against that Lieberman resolution. I think it will be a disappointment to millions of people who worked very hard for Barack Obama, but now is the time to move on," he said.
Lieberman, who became an independent after losing the 2006 Democratic primary in his state, has continued to sit with the Senate Democratic Caucus, despite his vocal support for McCain and criticism of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. After Obama's decisive win, however, Lieberman's chairmanship of the prized Homeland Security Committee had been thrown into doubt.
But Lieberman's chances of keeping the post were bolstered in recent days, as President-elect Obama signaled Democratic leaders not to punish the Connecticut senator, who was Democrat Al Gore's vice presidential running mate in 2000.
Obama reportedly told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada it would hurt the message of unity that he wants for his new administration if Lieberman leaves the Democratic caucus. Reid met with Lieberman last week and was initially inclined to strip him of the Homeland Security Committee chairmanship, according to a Senate Democratic aide.
Instead, Lieberman will have to forfeit the much less prestigious chairmanship of a subcommittee to the Environment and Public Works Committee. That move allows Lieberman to save face, as it comes amid a general reshuffling of Democratic subcommittee chairmanships designed to comply with long-standing caucus rules limiting the number of such posts.
Meanwhile, House Democrats are preparing for a bruising battle on Wednesday over who will control the Energy and Commerce Committee. Michigan Rep. John Dingell, 82, is trying to defend his leadership of the Energy and Commerce Committee against 69-year-old California Rep. Henry Waxman.
Energy and Commerce is likely to be an increasingly powerful committee in the new Congress, as it will have say over health care and energy legislation, expected to be cornerstone issues of an Obama White House.
The challenge to Dingell, the longest-serving House Democrat, has become more poignant in recent days, as he has long championed Michigan automakers that are now hat-in-hand before Congress.
The 50-odd freshmen in the House are key to the ultimate outcome. Few of them remember the heyday of Dingell's congressional career. Their vote in the caucus could go to the younger Waxman.
The incoming members are getting lobbied from both sides.
"I knew both of them and admired both of them," said Rep.-elect Dan Maffei (D-NY), who previously served in various staff positions on Capitol Hill. "It's a tough vote for all of us," he said of the expected showdown.
From NPR and wire reports