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Goodbye, Joe?

A Commentary By Robert Novak

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Despite assurances to the contrary from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democratic insiders are certain Sen. Joseph Lieberman next year will be kicked out of the party's caucus and lose his Senate chairmanship if he addresses the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., as planned.

Lieberman's Democratic colleagues willing to accept his support of Sen. John McCain for president consider speaking to the GOP convention as the last straw. Lieberman was re-elected from Connecticut as an independent in 2006 after losing the Democratic nomination because of his support for the Iraq war.

After his 2006 election, the Senate Democratic leadership agreed to give Lieberman the Homeland Security Committee chairmanship if he provided the decisive vote to make the Democrats a 51 to 49 Senate majority. However, with additional Democratic senators likely to be elected this year, that agreement is expected to be null and void in the new Congress.

OBAMA OUTSIDE

Old Democratic hands believe Sen. Barack Obama's decision to deliver his presidential nomination acceptance speech at the 75,000-seat Denver Broncos football stadium Aug. 28 ignores a lesson from 48 years ago.

The last presidential nominee to deliver an outdoor acceptance speech was John F. Kennedy in 1960 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. That diminished the impact of one of his best campaign speeches, in which he unveiled the "New Frontier." The then-100,000-seat Coliseum was only half filled, and the sound was imperfect.

Technical advances in sound projection have been made in the last half-century, and Obama has been particularly effective in large outdoor venues. Nevertheless, Democratic pros feel the safer course for Obama would have been to give the speech in the 19,000-seat Pepsi Center, where the convention is being held.

SAVING MCCAIN

The nine Republican senators who switched positions Wednesday to pass the Medicare bill were taking their presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, off the hook to avoid the wrath of senior citizens and doctors.

McCain, who was on the campaign trail, was absent June 26 when the Senate fell one vote short of the 60 needed to pass a bill stopping a cut in Medicare payments to physicians. With his Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, present when the bill came up again Wednesday, Republicans feared that McCain would be blamed for blocking the measure.

The absent McCain was still opposed, but the nine Republicans switchers made his position moot. Three of the GOP converts are up for re-election this year and were under heavy pressure from the American Medical Association.

MCCAIN WITHOUT MURPHY

The possible return of political consultant Mike Murphy to help Sen. John McCain's campaign is definitely off, with the Republican presidential candidate's aides putting out word that Murphy will not be back. He has signed with NBC as a campaign commentator.

McCain was interested in returning Murphy, a key strategist in his 2000 presidential campaign. But it was determined that Murphy would cause too much friction within McCain's staff.

Murphy was not involved in the battle for this year's Republican presidential campaign. He had been close to both McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and did not want to choose between them.

Barney's Retreat

The House Republican minority scored a rare victory over the usually masterful Rep. Barney Frank, when he pulled from the House floor Wednesday a bill to protect as a "scenic wilderness" site the Taunton River at urban Fall River, Mass., in his district.

Such measures are routinely approved when sponsored by a powerful committee chairman such as Frank. However, Republicans launched a campaign contending that the bill was intended to block a liquefied natural gas terminal opposed by Frank. A surprised Frank indicated he was not prepared for a floor fight.

"It'll come back," Frank was quoted by Congress Daily. Congressional sources later said Frank might try again this coming week, with a possibility that the LNP terminal would be carved out and not included in the protected scenic area.

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