Washington’s “partisan mud fights” have undermined the confidence of Americans, according to Senator Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut Democrat turned independent who is leaving Congress in two years.
Lieberman told ABC’s “This Week” show that he saw progress in the lame-duck congressional session that closed 2010. President Barack Obama “reached out across party lines” to strike deals with Republicans on taxes, gays in the military and nuclear-arms reductions, Lieberman said.
“I think part of the reason why the American people have lost some of our characteristic confidence in recent years is not just the terrible recession, but the fact that, when they turned to their government in Washington, what they saw is people having partisan mud fights, not thinking about what they could do for them, the American people,” Lieberman said.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell struck a similar note in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” saying American public discourse has become infused with “a coarseness, a nastiness” that “we all better think about.”
Lieberman, 68, changed his party affiliation to independent from Democrat to survive a bruising 2006 re-election contest. He last week became the third senator to rule out running again in 2012. The others are Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, 62, a North Dakota Democrat, and Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, 67.
Democrats control the Senate 53-47. Democrats will defend 23 of the 33 seats at stake so far next year. Republicans will be aiming to gain a majority.
Prompted by the shooting of Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords at a public event in Tucson, Arizona, at least a half-dozen senators have announced plans to sit with a rival party member at Obama’s State of the Union address Jan.25 in an effort to demonstrate political civility.
The pairings of senators include Republican Mark Kirk with Democrat Richard Durbin, both of Illinois; Democrat Charles Schumer of New York with Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma; and Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine with Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. On today’s ABC show, Democrat Conrad invited Republican Hutchison to be his seatmate.
Durbin joked on “Fox News Sunday” of his cross-party plans with his fellow Illinois senator: “I’m bringing the popcorn, he’s bringing the Coke with two straws.”
“If people want to mix it up, they certainly can,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said of the seating issue on the “Fox News Sunday” program. “More important than the appearance of sitting together is what we do together.”
Last week, McConnell and Republican Speaker John Boehner declined White House invitations to attend a state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also skipped the event.
Lieberman, who ran as the vice-presidential nominee on the Democratic ticket headed by Al Gore in 2000 and was the first Jewish candidate to appear on a major national political party’s presidential ticket, today said “I want to begin a new chapter in my life.” He has two years left in his current term.
Hutchison said she faced a tough re-election contest and cited the needs of the two children, born in 2001, that she and her second husband, Ray Hutchison, adopted. Conrad said Jan. 18 that he didn’t want to be distracted by a campaign while working to reduce the U.S. deficit and dependence on foreign oil.