Two days after he clinched the Democratic nomination, Obama is already changing how Washington works. This morning he gave Joe Lieberman what for after Lieberman publicly attacked Obama’s positions on Iran, Iraq, and Israel:
Sen. Joe Lieberman, the self-described “Independent Democrat” who caucuses with the Democratic party in the Senate even though he has endorsed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, got some tough talk from Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, yesterday about his advocacy for the presumptive Republican presidential candidate and the general tone of the campaign, Democratic sources tell ABC News.
Returning to the Senate after his securing the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama and Lieberman greeted each on the Senate floor in the Well as they were voting on the budget resolution.
They shook hands. But Obama didn’t let go, leading Lieberman – cordially – by the hand across the room into a corner on the Democratic side, where Democratic sources tell ABC News he delivered some tough words for the junior senator from Connecticut, who had just minutes before hammered Obama’s speech before the pro-Israel group AIPAC in a conference call arranged by the McCain campaign.
The two spoke intensely for approximately five minutes, with no one able to hear their conversation. Reporters watched as Obama leaned closely in to Lieberman, whose back was literally up against the wall.
Neither party is officially talking. But while Lieberman spokesman Marshall Whitman says the conversation was “a cordial and friendly discussion” and Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton says it was “private and friendly,” Democratic sources tell ABC News that the conversation was a stern rebuke to Lieberman for his criticism of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee on the conference call, as well as a discussion about how far Lieberman is willing to go in his advocacy of McCain, and the tone of the campaign.
“It’s one thing to support McCain,” said one Democratic source, “but many think Uncle Joe has gone too far.”
Lieberman’s criticisms followed a speech Obama gave to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC):
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), a McCain supporter, challenged Sen. Barack Obama’s judgment and experience on Israel and national security issues, following the Illinois senator’s speech this morning at the influential pro-Israel lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, conference in Washington. Lieberman said there was “a disconnect between some of the things [Obama] said today” and some of his past statements.
“To be specific, I was troubled earlier in the campaign season when Sen. Obama compared Iran and other rogue and terrorist states to the Soviet Union, and minimized the threat represented by Iran. I think that’s wrong. Today he said he thought Iran represented a grave threat. I think the statement he made today was right.”
Lieberman brought up Obama’s opposition to the Kyl-Lieberman amendment that labeled the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, pointing out it was supported by 29 Democratic senators. The amendment passed 76-22.
“That measure was supported by three-fourths of the Senate, including Sens. Reid, Schumer, Durbin and Clinton. Sen. Obama opposed it, saying it was saber-rattling referring to the threat of military force. If you look at the Kyl-Lieberman amendment as it was passed, it has none of that in it regarding military action. I still hope he will say that vote was a mistake and he will support that resolution.”
Lieberman also challenged Obama’s assertions that U.S. policies have had a negative impact on Israel’s security.
“Sen. Obama today argued American foreign policy in recent years has essentially strengthened Iran. At one point he almost seemed to suggest it helped to elect (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad and has made Israel less safe. I just disagree with that. Iran(ians) elected Ahmadinejad for their own reasons. If Israel is in danger today, it’s not because of American foreign policy, which has been strongly supportive of Israel in every way. It’s not because of what we’ve done in Iraq, it’s because Iran is a fanatical terrorist expansionist state. Iran has a leader — and leaderships — that constantly threatens to extinguish the state of Israel.”
Sam Stein points out a key problem with the above:
The remarks fit into a traditional GOP rallying cry, that the Democrats have a blame-America-first mentality. But there are outstanding factors that could muddle Lieberman’s message. For starters, most objective metrics indicate that Iran has, in fact, been strengthened by America’s involvement in Iraq. Ahmadinejad, after all, has increasingly meddled in Iraqi affairs.
Lieberman’s support for McCain is also problematic vis a vis Iran and Iraq:
… McCain, despite tough rhetoric on Iran, has several advisers with deep connections to the country; perhaps the most embarrassing of which is Charlie Black, the campaign’s chief strategist. Before leaving his perch as a D.C. lobbyist, Black represented a Chinese oil company that did business with the Iranian government. He and his firm also represented Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile who helped churn up support for the war in the United States and has subsequently been accused of selling U.S. secrets to Iran.
Here’s another blast of fresh air:
Barack Obama, now cast as the Democrats’ standard-bearer, moved quickly to put his imprint on the national party Thursday, eager to reinforce its fundraising operation and pursue an aggressive general election campaign.
Howard Dean will remain as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, an affirmation by Obama of Dean’s bottoms-up rebuilding of the party across all 50 states. Still, Obama is installing one of his top strategists, Paul Tewes, to help expand the DNC staff and oversee party operations.
The move puts Obama’s ample fundraising machine at the party’s disposal. In so doing, Obama imposed on the DNC the same ban on money from federal lobbyists and political action committees that he has placed on his campaign.
By keeping Dean as party chairman, Obama ended up taking sides in a long-running dispute between Washington-based Democratic Party leaders and state party officials. Although Obama campaign officials have expressed concern in the past that the party did not have enough money, Obama shares Dean’s goal of building the party from the ground up, even in states where Republicans dominate.
Dean has spent party resources creating a comprehensive national voter file and placing an average of four staffers in each of the 50 states. The strategy was a hit with state party officials but encountered skepticism in Washington, where some congressional leaders angrily pressed for the party to spend money on winnable contests.
In a statement, Obama spokesman Bill Burton said: “Senator Obama appreciates the hard work that Chairman Dean has done to grow our party at the grass-roots level and looks forward to working with him as the chairman of the Democratic Party as we go forward.”