In his first national video interview since announcing his plans to retire from the U.S. Senate, Sen. Joe Lieberman tells Newsmax.TV that he won't officially endorse President Barack Obama's re-election and that it’s “conceivable” he could support a Republican presidential candidate in 2012.
But he quickly adds that Obama “has heard the voice of the American people” and praises him for accomplishments in foreign affairs. Lieberman says Obama has been moving toward the center following the big GOP gains in the November elections, which the Connecticut senator sees as a positive development.
The veteran Connecticut legislator, an independent Democrat, surprised many Wednesday by announcing he won’t seek re-election in 2012. He asserts that he has no regrets over bolting from his own party to back Republican John McCain for president against Obama in 2008, saying he was the candidate “best prepared” for the job.
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Lieberman also says the atmosphere in Washington is “far too partisan,” and concedes that his “independent-mindedness” has hurt him politically.
He also suggests that the House's plan to repeal Obamacare will fail, but that it will lead to an open discussion about the law passed by Congress last year, which Lieberman said could be improved.
Lieberman voted for the Obama-backed national healthcare plan. But in exchange for his crucial swing vote, Democrats dropped the plan's inclusion of a "public option" that critics said would have led to the end of private health care in the U.S.
Lieberman was first elected to the Senate in 1988, re-elected as a Democrat in 1994 and 2000, and became a lion in the august body championing national security issues and an aggressive U.S. foreign policy.
In 2000, he ran unsuccessfully for vice president on former Vice President Al Gore’s ticket. The ticket lost narrowly.
Despite the defeat, Lieberman strongly backed President Bush's war on terror, and become one of the administration's strongest Democratic allies in Congress for such issues.
For supporting Bush's anti-terror policies, in 2006 Lieberman faced a stiff challenge in the Democratic primary in Connecticut. He lost the primary but won re-election to the Senate as an independent, with overwhelming support of Republican and independent voters.
He continued to caucus with the Democrats, but he upset many in the party when he backed McCain in 2008 and even spoke in his support at the Republican National Convention.
In the sit-down interview conducted shortly after his Wednesday press conference in Stamford, Conn., Newsmax magazine Editor in Chief Ken Chandler asked Lieberman about his official announcement on Wednesday that he will not seek re-election.
“Today I feel very good about the decision I’ve made, about what I’ve been able to accomplish,” he says.
“I’m looking forward to the next two years, devoting myself fully to the business of the Senate without having to worry about a campaign.
“Why did I decide not to run? I’ve quoted Ecclesiastes: For every thing there is a season and a time for every purpose under Heaven. Bottom line, at the end of this term I will have been in the Senate for 24 years. I will have been in elective office for 40 years. I will have run 15 campaigns in Connecticut. For me I think it’s time for another season and another purpose under Heaven.”
Asked if the atmosphere in Washington has become too toxic, Lieberman responds: “The atmosphere in Washington is much too partisan, and yet I have really focused on trying to build bridges between the parties to get things done.
“As I look back at the work I did across party lines, on foreign policy, for instance ending the genocide against Muslims in the Balkans, the work I did across party lines to create the Office of Homeland Security, and just recently the bipartisan work to repeal the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy — those are things that you can still do in a partisan atmosphere.
“But it is too partisan for someone like me who doesn’t fit into the political boxes, because I always felt that my greatest loyalty was not to the party but to my constituents, to my state, to my country.”
Lieberman says his independence both hurt and helped him as a senator.
“I think it helped me to be a good senator, a productive senator, to get things done, because I’ve had credibility. It probably didn’t help me politically, because there are people in both parties who want people in their party to be 100 percent ideologically pure, and that’s unnatural for Americans. We’re independent-minded.
“My independent-mindedness probably hurt me politically, but I did what I thought was right, and I think it made me a better senator.”
Lieberman acknowledges that his support for McCain in 2008 upset many Democrats in Connecticut.
“But I did what I thought was right,” he adds.
“I was an independent. I was re-elected as an independent. So I could make an independent judgment. John McCain and I are very close friends, and he’s a national hero. But beyond that, he and I agree almost totally cross the board on foreign policy and defense policy,” Lieberman says.
“He asked me if I’d help him across party lines and I said I would because I think you’re best prepared to be the president we need now.
“But when the economy collapsed in September of 2008, I think any chance Senator McCain had of getting elected was gone. But I don’t regret having supported him.”
Lieberman says he has enjoyed working with Obama since he entered the White House and is “pretty pleased” with his foreign policy overall.
“He’s stuck with the Iraq war,” the senator says. “He hasn’t precipitously pulled out as a lot of people hoped he would the day after he got elected. And in Afghanistan he’s increased our troop presence by over 30,000. He’s committed to winning the war there. He’s been very tough on Iran. So overall I’m very pleased and happy to work with him.”
Lieberman says it’s “too early to say” if he thinks Obama deserves to be re-elected and if he would support Obama in 2012.
“But as I’ve said, President Obama has done some things, particularly in foreign policy, that I think have been very solid and really in the bipartisan mainstream of American foreign policy tradition. That’s all to the good.
“I haven’t agreed with everything he’s done, but I think he’s building a decent record. The reason I said it’s too early is because we’re only halfway through the Obama administration and we don’t know who the Republicans will put up, so I’ll watch it with real interest.”
Asked point-blank if it is conceivable Lieberman might support a Republican presidential candidate in 2012, he responds: “It’s conceivable, but I wouldn’t want to overstate that because I think in many ways President Obama, particularly in the past several months, has heard the voice of the American people in the election last November, and I think he’s followed that course.
“The agreement on extending the Bush tax cuts, which was the right agreement for our country and our economy, the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell, these are steps in the right direction. But we’ll see. It’s still early.”
Lieberman agrees that the second half of Obama’s term could be a replay of Bill Clinton’s move toward the center following big GOP gains in Congress in 1996.
“This happens to a lot of presidents. President Clinton went through this. He made some changes. It’s not bad.
Elections matter in our country. People speak as loudly and freely as they did last November. President Obama listened and I think he’s moving in a direction that’s good for the country. I think that’s the best thing that can happen for him politically as well.”
Lieberman offers this advice for Obama: “What I’d like to see is for him to continue to build on some of those foreign and defense policies to show how much he understands, and I know he does, that we continue to succeed in Iraq, that the Iraqis develop a self-governing, self-defending country, and we continue to make progress in Afghanistan — and on the probably most threatening international issue of the day, we don’t let the Iranians ever get nuclear weapons capabilities.
“At home I’d really like to see him take the lead trying to negotiate a bipartisan, longer-term program to get federal spending under control and reduce our debt. I think he can do that.”
Lieberman also tells Newsmax it would be a mistake to repeal Obamacare rather than try to improve it.
“This isn’t a perfect law, to put it mildly. But this is so big that I think it would be a mistake to just repeal it. I think it can be fixed. I think it can be improved.
“I think the House repeal of healthcare reform is a first step. It is the Republicans in the House keeping their word to the voters. I don’t think any of them think it’s going to become law. It’s the beginning of a conversation to see if we can make this better.”
Lieberman says it’s also too early to point to a favored choice among potential Republican presidential candidate.
“I know almost all of them personally. Governor Romney, Governor Palin, Governor Pawlenty, Governor Huckabee. So I’m watching. But it’s early. We’ll see who emerges from the Republican primaries.”
Lieberman also says in his Newsmax interview:
- If the American economy is not producing wealth and jobs and the government not paying its bills, we’re ultimately not going to be “a strong government in the world.”
- Lieberman believes the way to reduce unemployment is to reduce the national debt, which will elicit a positive reaction from the financial markets, produce increased investment in the United States, and ultimately produce jobs.
- He says the claim that Democrats were not liberal enough over the past two years is “the wrong position.”
- He states that “both parties would be smart to come back to the independent center of American politics, where most of the American people are.”
Regarding his plans for his post-Senate years, Lieberman says: “I’ll always want to be involved in public service in some way. But I haven’t even begun to think about that. But it’s exciting just to have the opportunity to think about it.”
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