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Transition 2012

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Congress Update: Lieberman’s Retirement and Polarization

by Newsteam Staff
December 3, 2012

U.S. Senator Graham, Senator McCain and Senator Lieberman attend a news conference in Kabul July 3, 2011. (Mohammad Ismail/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. Senator Graham, Senator McCain and Senator Lieberman attend a news conference in Kabul July 3, 2011. (Mohammad Ismail/Courtesy Reuters)

Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s (I-CT) retirement will not only break up “the three amigos,” a group comprised of Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and himself, the loss of the bipartisan group’s Democrat-turned-Independent member could also “profoundly affect their ability to influence foreign policy,” reports the New York Times.

An illustration of life without Mr. Lieberman surfaced recently when Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham, along with a new amiga, Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican freshman from New Hampshire, called for a special committee to investigate the deadly attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. The push quickly fell flat, and Mr. McCain, who had harshly criticized Susan E. Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, over the attack, appeared to retreat over the weekend from his original assertion that Ms. Rice was unqualified to be secretary of state.

In the National Interest, Jacob Heilbrunn comments on the New York Times article‘s assertion that Lieberman gave McCain and Graham’s foreign policy goals  a “veneer of bipartisanship that lent credibility”:

If this theory is true, it could have significant implications for Republican Party foreign policy, which has been mesmerized by neocon doctrine for at least a decade. Perhaps the problem with American foreign policy is that there has been too much conformism and not enough dissension in recent years. Might a form of emancipation take place in which a more sober view of American interests replaces the ebullient neocon nostrums?

In the American Conservative, Daniel Larison reacts to both of the above stories, saying:

All of this gives Lieberman too much credit or blame for the malign influence that McCain and Graham have on the foreign policy debate. McCain wasn’t lavished with media attention in the past because he worked alongside Lieberman. He and Graham continue to be taken far too seriously on foreign policy even when they aren’t teaming up with Lieberman on a particular issue.

Larison also seems to doubt that Lieberman’s departure will have any effect because “there are other new members of the Senate that have been encouraged to act as Lieberman replacements now that he is departing.”

Lieberman has expressed concerns about the future of foreign policy in the Senate, writes Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post:

As for the Senate, Lieberman said he is concerned about two things: ”One is the growing partisanship around foreign policy. . . The other thing I worry about in the Senate is senators with staff who say, ‘Why are you spending so much time on foreign policy?’” He later added, “I am worried that there are not enough people in the Democratic Party who embrace the Truman-Kennedy [internationalist] foreign policy.” In fact, there may be no one other than himself, a troubling political reality that Ayotte, if she is to sustain her presence on the national stage, will need to tackle.


Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein discuss congressional dysfunction in Foreign Policy, citing “a mismatch between the checks and balances built into the U.S. system and the extreme polarization now separating the two major political parties,” and “the asymmetry of this polarization” as the main causes. They caution:

This lethal combination of forces has serious implications not just for America’s ability to solve its problems; it also poisons America’s standing in the world — its ability to project its values abroad, garner the trust and respect of allies, and serve as a role model for nascent democracies and a counterpoint to autocracies.

In the Huffington Post, Tom Rogan writes that “America can accomplish great things abroad” if President Obama works to overcome polarization and reestablishes “a tradition of bi-partisanship in American foreign policy.” Rogan suggests:

If the President and Congress are willing to put partisanship on hold, America can re-engage a tradition of cooperation at the heart of our foreign policy. Focusing on the key themes of freedom, peace and prosperity, over the next four years our government can shape a bold and durable American foreign policy foundation for the future. This will be a foundation that serves America, our ideals and the world.

Specifically, he suggests more closely tying foreign aid to a respect for the rule of law, taking stronger action against Assad in Syria, and increasing support for existing trade agreements as well as initiating new ones.

Addressing the increasing polarization of Congress, in guest blog post for CFR’s Renewing America, Steven J. Markovich writes that one of the main causes is gerrymandering, or “drawing political boundaries to secure an advantage.”

Bipartisan Policy Center study concluded that “The 2012 redistricting process will ensure that the House of Representatives remains highly polarized in the new Congress,” reports Government Executive.

–Contributing Editor Kirsti Itameri

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