Sen. Joe Lieberman riled Democrats last year by criticizing then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. Now the Connecticut independent is helping the president push for a bill to combat global warming.
Lieberman's fingerprints have been on every major climate change bill ever considered by the U.S. Senate, and despite his differences with his former party, he is a regular at the weekly meetings of a dozen Democratic senators working to get a bill in shape by the end of September.
It's the first time in his 20-year Senate career that he is not a member of the key panel drafting the legislation. He lost his seat on the environment committee when he supported GOP presidential candidate John McCain, a move many view as a punishment for campaigning against the Democrats.
"My goal is exactly the same as it's been, but my role is different," said Lieberman 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. None of the five global warming bills he has introduced or signed onto since 1998 has been successful.
The template for the Senate this year passed the House in late June by the slimmest of margins. Although Lieberman acknowledges that it would reduce global warming, wean the country off foreign oil and boost the economy with clean-energy jobs, he doesn't support it. Neither do many Republicans, or all Democrats.
Dangling nuclear energy
So, as Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and John Kerry of Massachusetts lead the effort, Lieberman is busy on the sidelines drumming up support for measures — such as boosting the commitment to nuclear energy — that he says are 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.
That legislation, like its predecessors in 2003, 2005 and 2007, would have limited heat-trapping gases the same way as the House bill currently under consideration. Its centerpiece was a "cap-and-trade" system where companies would have pollution allowances that they could sell if they went below emissions limits, or buy if they could not meet the requirements.
Lieberman still thinks that cap-and-trade is the best way to control global warming emissions. He also says it would raise the money needed to make "revolutionary investments" in cleaner forms of energy, and to "ameliorate some of the pain associated with an enormous societal change" in how Americans power their homes, vehicles and businesses.
"That's the thing I like most and why I feel comfortable operating in the context of the House bill," he said.
This year, however, 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.