Sen. Joe Lieberman riled up Democrats by picking the GOP presidential candidate over then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, but he’s still working with the party, helping the president push for a bill to battle global warming. He’s just not as powerful a weather warrior as he once was.
Lieberman, who has worked on every major climate change bill the U.S. Senate has ever considered, is still at weekly meetings with a dozen Democratic senators who are trying to get a bill in shape by the end of September. But, for the first time in his 20-year Senate career, he is not a member of the key panel actually drafting the legislation.
He lost his seat on the environment committee in a move many consider punishment for campaigning for Sen. John McCain and against the Democrats.
"My goal is exactly the same as it's been, but my role is different," Lieberman said in an interview with The Associated Press in his Washington office. "My goal is to help pass a law that will enable the United States to reduce the threat of global warming, and incidentally, make America energy independent, because the two now go together."
Perhaps no one knows more than Lieberman how tough it will be. He has introduced or signed five global warming bills since 1998. Not a single one has been successful.
The template for the Senate this year narrowly passed the House in late June.
Lieberman says it would reduce global warming, wean the country off foreign oil and boost the economy with clean-energy jobs, but he doesn't support it. Neither do many Republicans, or all Democrats.
So, as Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and John Kerry of Massachusetts lead the effort, Lieberman is on the sidelines, drumming up support -- such as boosting the commitment to nuclear energy --, which he says, is necessary to improve the bill's chances.
"I assume as I start my work on this that 60 Democrats will not vote for this bill, and therefore we got to get a core group of Republicans," said Lieberman, who has counted McCain and then-Sen. Barack Obama as co-sponsors on previous bills. "And I think we can."
Last year, despite both presidential candidates supporting action on global warming and Democrats in charge of Congress, Lieberman watched his fifth try at getting a climate change bill fail. The bill fell a dozen votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.
This year, Lieberman says, the odds for passage "are better than even" -- thanks to a president who is behind the bill, the House passing global warming legislation for the first time and a looming December deadline for international talks on a new treaty to reduce heat-trapping gases.
The science, he said, also has gotten more compelling since he wrote his first global warming bill more than a decade ago. "Every year the problem gets worse, the threat of real damage gets worse, even catastrophic damage," said Lieberman, sounding like his 2000 presidential running mate, Vice President Al Gore, who went on to win a Nobel Prize for his work on global warming.