Lieberman On Obama, Post-Campaign Politics

He was a ubiquitous presence on the campaign trail. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic vice presidential candidate, stumped for his close friend, Republican Sen. John McCain.

Even speaking at the Republican party's convention in St. Paul, Minn., he said: "Sen. Obama is a gifted and eloquent young man. But, my friends, eloquence is no substitute for a record." Lieberman became an Independent in 2006 after a painful primary defeat by Ned Lamont, who, unlike Lieberman, was staunchly anti-war.

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats, who had threatened to strip Lieberman of his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee decided he could keep it, though he was asked to step down as chairman of another sub-committee. Lieberman spoke with CBS News anchor Katie Couric Tuesday morning.

Lieberman: I think what the Democratic caucus did yesterday in response to the appeal from president-elect Obama was to say "it's time for us to reconcile, to close ranks. Yes we didn't like some of the things Joe Lieberman said during the campaign, but he's one of us."

Couric: Do you feel as if you owe President-Elect Obama one?

Lieberman: Well, look, no more than what I've said from the day after the election two weeks ago, which is: I congratulate Barack Obama on becoming our president. I offer him my full-hearted commitment to help in any way I can to make him the president we need at this urgently critical time in mesh history.

Couric: I know you want to look forward, Sen. Lieberman, but I feel I would remiss if I didn't mention a couple things that enraged Democrats.

Lieberman: Why did I know you were gonna do that?

Couric: You said on whether Sen. Obama is a Marxist, you said "it's a good question to ask." Are you sorry you said that?

Lieberman: That's one of those things I wish I said more clearly. Obviously Barack Obama is not a Marxist.

Couric: You said it's a good question to ask.

Lieberman: But then I answered it and said, "no he's not Marxist." I said at the time that he's somewhat to the left of me on some issues.

Couric: What really irritated even enraged some Democrats was your speech at the Republican National Convention.

Lieberman: Yeah.

Couric: Did you understand at the time how nervy that might seem to some Democrats? How inappropriate?

Lieberman: I understood that I was doing something different as an Independent Democrat supporting a Republican candidate. But I did it not only because I felt so strongly on behalf of my friend John McCain, but because there is so much partisanship in our politics today that really stops us from getting things done for the American people. And in a speech that I would guess went 15 or 20 minutes, I spoke three sentences, which I believe were respectful, about Sen. Obama.

Watch an extended clip of Katie Couric's interview.
Couric: It was no secret, Sen. Lieberman, that in his heart of hearts, John McCain really wanted you.

Lieberman: Well, I don't know that that's true. I must tell you, when Rick Davis, the McCain campaign manager, called me and said that John wanted to put me on the so-called short list for vice president for vetting, I really said, Katie "are you kidding?" Because though we're very close friends, John McCain and I thought, now how's he gonna get the Republican Convention to confirm a Democratic vice presidential nominee? Somebody during that time told me that that hadn't been done since Abraham Lincoln.

Couric: Sen. Clinton is a key contender, it seems, for secretary of state. What do you think of that?

Lieberman: Well, I'm a big Hillary Clinton fan. I think if he decided he wanted her and she decided she wanted to do it, she would be a great secretary of state.

Couric: I have covered a lot of elections in my career, and it seems to me, senator, that every time a new president comes into office we hear the same thing. "We're going to work together. We're going to work for the American people. There's going to be a new spirit of bipartisanship." And, while frankly, it dissolves pretty quickly into bitter partisanship and the same-old-same old.

Lieberman: We have had here in our government in Washington for too long now a permanent campaign. There are times here, Katie, when I see the partisan squabbling going on in Congress and with the White House over the last several years I feel like we're firefighters who have stepped outside a house that's burning and are spending all our time arguing with each other instead of putting out the fire in the house.

Couric: Arguing about which hose to use?

Lieberman: Arguing about which hose to use. And I think it's so clear now that America's house is being threatened by fire that all of just got together and help to put out that fire and rebuild the house.