Video: Will Obama keep his bi-partisan promise?

updated 11/11/2008 5:44:53 PM ET 2008-11-11T22:44:53

President-elect Obama has told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid he's not interested in seeing the Democrats oust Connecticut's Joe Lieberman from their ranks over his endorsement of Republican John McCain.

Obama told Reid in a phone conversation last week that expelling Lieberman from the Democratic caucus would hurt the message of bipartisanship and unity that he wants for his new administration, a Senate Democratic aide said Tuesday. This aide spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential.

The caucus is the meeting of all Senate Democrats and at the beginning of each Congress it chooses the body's leaders. Lieberman, a longtime Democrat mostly recently re-elected as an independent, has continued to join the Democratic caucus.

In the last Congress his presence was essential to the Democrats' control of the Senate because he gave them a 51-49 edge over Republicans. But Democrats expanded their majority last Tuesday and no longer need Lieberman to control the chamber, though his vote still could be crucial in votes to end filibusters.

Obama says he won't get involved in the fight on Capitol Hill over whether Democrats should take away Lieberman's chairmanship of a key committee to punish him for backing his close friend McCain for president.

"We aren't going to referee decisions about who should or should not be a committee chair," Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said in a statement Tuesday. "President-elect Obama looks forward to working with anyone to move the country forward. We'd be happy to have Sen. Lieberman caucus with the Democrats. We don't hold any grudges."

Lieberman angered many Democrats by criticizing Obama during the presidential race. Lieberman spoke at the Republican National Convention and accompanied McCain on the presidential campaign trail.

Lieberman has met with Reid, but there has been no word on whether Reid intends to try to oust Lieberman as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said the caucus should be "gracious in victory" toward Lieberman.

"Despite what Sen. Lieberman did in campaigning for Sen. McCain, speaking at the Republican convention, he has voted with the Democrats an overwhelming percentage of the time," Durbin said after a Veteran's Day event in Illinois.

Four Senate Democrats have been asked to review the situation and recommend possible actions against Lieberman, Durbin said. He would not identify the four.

Last week, Lieberman pledged to put partisan considerations aside and work with Obama. Lieberman, who was Democrat Al Gore's running mate in 2000, was re-elected to the Senate from Connecticut in 2006 as an independent after losing his state's Democratic primary. He remains a registered Democrat and aligns himself with Senate Democrats.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky spoke to Lieberman last week about the possibility of Lieberman's joining the GOP caucus.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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