In his first public appearance in Connecticut since the election, U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman praised president-elect Barack Obama’s cabinet choices and credited Obama with helping him retain his Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chairmanship.
“President-Elect Obama clearly asked Senator Reid, the majority leader, and my colleagues in the Senate Democratic caucus to do whatever they could to keep me as a member of the Democratic caucus,” Lieberman said Tuesday afternoon at a press conference in his Hartford office.
Striking a conciliatory tone at his first Connecticut press conference since campaigning for Republican Sen. John McCain, Lieberman admitted that “in the heat of the campaign, I said some things about Barack Obama that I could have said more clearly and I said a couple of things that I shouldn’t have said at all.”
Lieberman continued, “I’ve got to say that everything president-elect Obama has done since election night has been just about perfect, both in terms of tone and also in terms of the strength of the names that have either been announced or are being discussed to fill his administration. I’m very encouraged.”
Lieberman said he was excited about the appointments of Peter Orszag as budget director and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as Homeland Security Secretary.
He ended the press conference with an odd story about how Orszag’s grandfather lived next to Lieberman’s mother in Stamford, where he apparently courted her by doing the family’s laundry.
Lieberman’s political fate in Connecticut
In just 23 days, members of Connecticut’s Democratic State Central Committee will consider a resolution to censure Lieberman for his support of McCain’s presidential campaign.
“That’s up to them, the members of the Democratic State Central Committee,” Lieberman said. “They have a right to do whatever they want to do.”
He said he has some longtime friends on the Democratic State Central Committee, and that he understands that they were disappointed, and in some cases angered, by his support of McCain.
“Frankly I have some people on the Democratic State Central Committee who have never been great supporters of mine,” he said. However, he does regret the difficulties the situation has created for Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo, who is a longtime family friend.
“In some sense, I really regret the difficulties my personal independence politically has put Nancy DiNardo through, and I will do anything I can to help her and the Democratic Party of Connecticut as I always have,” he said. “I would ask them to judge me by my record.”
Also Credits Dodd With Saving His Chairmanship
Lieberman said U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd really came to his defense, not only in front of the Democratic caucus but in calling members of the Democratic caucus before it met.
According to Lieberman, Dodd made two arguments on his behalf. The first was about how much Lieberman has done in his 20 years of service in the Senate. The second was related to the Connecticut electorate.
Dodd, according to Lieberman, asked the caucus not to punish Connecticut because of a “position of personal principle and opinion” taken by a colleague. Lieberman said Dodd then told the caucus that Connecticut needs two senators with the seniority that they’ve both earned.
“I thought that was a very powerful argument,” Lieberman said.
“I think the president-elect understands that the problems he and America face are just too urgent to allow himself or anybody else the luxury of partisan vision,” Lieberman said. “We’ve got to unite, and I think he’s done very well at uniting us in the few weeks since the election.”
To that end, Lieberman said he hopes Congress will be able to approve a second stimulus package when it reconvenes in January.
Lieberman said a stimulus package should contain another round of tax rebate checks for the American public. He said individuals would receive $500, married couples $1,000, and an additional $300 for every child.
The second part of the stimulus package should include aid for state and local governments. He said that if the federal government increased the Medicaid rates from 50 to 58 percent it would cost about $30 billion. Under that equation the state of Connecticut would see an additional $200 million in Medicaid funds.
He also would like to see the federal government spend about $10 billion in community block grant funds. Under this scenario, Connecticut’s cities and towns would receive an additional $50 million, Lieberman said, adding that the funds would help reduce property tax increases and service reductions.
“I can report to you from Washington there’s a real spirit of coming together to do it and I look forward to doing my best in the session ahead for the people of Connecticut and for our country,” he said.