Most of the attention on whether Joe Lieberman should be ousted from his Senate committee chairmanship has focused on his disloyalty to Democrats and his control of homeland security issues, but there’s also the question of how well he has handled his panel’s broad government oversight responsibilities.
In contrast to his House counterpart, Rep. Henry Waxman, who has chaired dozens of high-profile hearings on the Bush administration’s wrongdoing the past two years, Sen. Lieberman has not held a single hearing on Executive Branch malfeasance nor has he issued any subpoenas demanding information from the administration.
That means Lieberman’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has passed over for hearings issues such as warrantless domestic surveillance, Iraq contracting fraud, “enhanced interrogation” of detainees, and the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina.
Lieberman has seemed determined to ignore issues that put Bush – and especially his “war on terror” – in a negative light. In 2007, Lieberman did hold one hearing on "reconstruction challenges in both Iraq and Afghanistan."
A lifelong Democrat, Lieberman alienated many in the rank-and-file with his enthusiastic support for Bush’s “war on terror” and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 2006, Connecticut Democrats rejected Lieberman as the party’s Senate nominee, but he kept his seat by running and winning as an Independent who promised to caucus with the Democrats.
In 2007 and 2008, Lieberman’s membership in the Democratic caucus was crucial to give the Democrats institutional control of the Senate by a 51-49 margin. But Lieberman angered Democrats again by campaigning for Republican John McCain, speaking at the Republican National Convention, and attacking Democrat Barack Obama.
Now, with the Democrats holding a larger Senate majority, some Democrats favor stripping Lieberman of his chairmanship, but others fear such a punishment would drive Lieberman into the Republican caucus or into a resignation that would let Connecticut’s Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell pick a GOP replacement.
However, beyond the issue of disciplining a disloyal member of the Democratic caucus, there is the question of whether Lieberman shirked his committee’s oversight responsibilities with George W. Bush in office and now might be more aggressive against a President Obama.
The broad powers of the governmental affairs committee include studying or investigating:
“The efficiency and economy of operations of all branches of the Government including the possible existence of fraud, misfeasance, malfeasance, collusion, mismanagement, incompetence, corruption, or unethical practices, waste, extravagance, conflicts of interest, and the improper expenditure of Government funds in transactions, contracts, and activities of the Government or of Government officials and employees and any and all such improper practices between Government personnel and corporations, individuals, companies, or persons affiliated therewith, doing business with the Government …”
Yet, in the past two years, Lieberman let the Bush administration off the hook, especially when abuses related to Lieberman’s favored issues, such as the Iraq War.
So, when Blackwater security contractors killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in September 2007, Rep. Waxman immediately called hearings in the House and hauled in Blackwater Chief Executive Erik Prince to testify.
Waxman also released a lengthy report chronicling numerous cases in which Blackwater employees killed innocent Iraqis without being held accountable.
Lieberman, in explaining why he decided to sidestep the issue, said at the time, “You’ve got to set your own priorities and it was clear to me that other committees were going to pick this up.”
After the Blackwater shootings, Senate Democrats drafted legislation to set up a wartime contracting commission. Although the legislation had 28 sponsors and co-sponsors, Lieberman did not support the effort.