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Harry Reid Plays it Smart

He Won't Make a Martyr of Lieberman -- At Least Not Yet

Harry Reid has met with Senator Joe Lieberman to discuss Lieberman’s place in the Democratic conference. And instead of stripping him of his committee chairmanship, the two are expected to talk again:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declined to strip Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) of his Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chairmanship Thursday afternoon, but after the two met behind closed doors, Lieberman’s future remained uncertain. “Today Senator Lieberman and I had the first of what I expect to be several conversations,” Reid said in a statement released by his office. “No decisions have been made. While I understand that Senator Lieberman has voted with Democrats a majority of the time, his comments and actions have raised serious concerns among many in our caucus. I expect there to be additional discussions in the days to come, and Senator Lieberman and I will speak to our caucus in two weeks to discuss further steps.”

Lieberman, whose status with Democrats has been shaky since he endorsed Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) for president, indicated that Reid presented him with several options to consider and that he would mull them over.

“I want to spend some time in the next few days thinking about what Sen. Reid and I discussed and what my options are at this point, and he promised me that he will do the same. And we will continue these conversations,” Lieberman said in a brief appearance in the Senate TV gallery. He declined to answer questions about what options Reid had presented him with.

This is the smart move by Reid. While the netroots are screaming for Lieberman’s head, it makes sense for Reid to try to hold onto as large as majority as he can. After all, it was only a few days ago that Reid was hoping to manage the Senate with 60 Democratic votes; now he seems more likely to be stuck at 57. Reid has no desire to shrink that to 56, before Barack Obama decides whether to tap Senators for his administration.

Further, it would be a very bad PR move to dump Lieberman merely for following his conscience. It make far more sense to at least appear to be trying in good faith to heal the rift, so Lieberman takes the blame for leaving the Democrats, if that is ultimately what happens. Bet on this though: Lieberman will have to make some promises on voting to break filibusters as a condition of holding his seat. That’s his most valuable asset to Reid.

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