Former Sen. Joe Lieberman Back in Washington for ‘Internationalism’ Project

Christopher Snow Hopkins

In recent years, a number of prominent lawmakers have either renounced their party or been excommunicated.

The late Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., abandoned his Republican roots in 2009, only to suffer the indignity of losing to Joe Sestak in the 2010 Democratic primary. (Adding insult to injury, Sestak then lost to Republican Pat Toomey in the general election.)

Former Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., who did not seek reelection in 2010 so he could run for governor (he, too, lost), formally rescinded his support of President Obama during a speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

No instance of a lawmaker defying his party has drawn more scrutiny than that involving former Sen. Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Al Gore’s running mate in 2000 and, eight years later, a speaker at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.

Lieberman, who provoked the ire of the Democratic establishment by supporting the Iraq war in the face of mounting casualties, was defeated in Connecticut’s 2006 Democratic Senate primary by political neophyte Ned Lamont, but he prevailed in the general election with 49 percent of the vote. (Lamont received 39 percent, and Republican nominee Alan Schlesinger got 9 percent.) Lieberman then announced last year he would retire at the end of his fourth term in the Senate.

On Monday, Lieberman once again demonstrated his willingness to partner with conservatives on national security issues by agreeing to cochair the American Internationalism Project at the American Enterprise Institute.

Speaking by phone Tuesday, Lieberman said the project is “concerned with trying to rebuild a bipartisan sense of support for internationalism.” He added, “I think that there’s less interest in American international leadership. The reasons are understandable, such as the growing economic pressure the country is under. But my feeling has always been, if we pull back from American international leadership, you ultimately pay for it anyway, both in terms of our economy but in terms of security.”

He will be joined as project cochairman by former Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who also retired after the last Congress and became a visiting fellow at AEI.

Lieberman, 71, was first elected to the Senate in 1988 and later gained notoriety among Democrats for criticizing President Clinton on the floor for the latter’s seedy extracurricular activities. In 2000, he came within a whisker of becoming the first Jewish vice president, then ran for president four years later but dropped out soon after the New Hampshire primary.

During President George W. Bush’s second term, public opinion soured on the Iraq war and the hawkish senator from one of the bluest states in the country lost the Democratic Senate primary but won as an independent in the general election. He continued to caucus with Senate Democrats, but insisted on being labeled as an “independent Democrat.”