Every so often you will see speculation about what could happen if Vice President Dick Cheney is unable to serve out the remainder of his term and is replaced by someone nominated by President Bush.
This speculation has started again because of the criminal trial of Cheney’s former aide “Scooter” Libby and the embarrassing revelations about the vice president’s role in the attempt to discredit a leading critic of the president’s Iraq war policy.
Such speculation is particularly interesting now because of the close nature of the Democrats’ margin in the U.S. Senate (51-49). If Cheney resigned, could Karl Rove attempt the ultimate “bank shot” that would kill two birds with one stone?
What if the president replaced Cheney with a Democratic member of the United States Senate serving from a state with a Republican governor who could be expected to name a new Republican Senator? Impossible, you say.
Does the name Joe Lieberman ring a bell?
Lieberman, who lost the Democratic nomination for re-election to the Senate last summer, was elected as an independent and now caucuses with the Democrats providing them the one vote necessary to control the Senate. Lieberman comes from Connecticut, a state with a Republican governor, M. Jodi Rell.
Why would Lieberman consider this idea?
First, he would be the first person of the Jewish faith to serve as either president or vice president, an extraordinary accomplishment. Second, he supports the Bush administration’s position on Iraq and was a leading speaker against his own party’s effort last week to put the Senate on record against Bush’s Iraq policy.
And third, many of his Democratic Senate colleagues supported Ned Lamont, the Democratic nominee, in the general election against Lieberman.
There would be several other steps in this particular minuet before Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell could become Senate Majority Leader.
If Lieberman were replaced by a Republican senator, Republicans would have a 50-49 majority because of the continuing incapacity of South Dakota Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson who is recovering from a serious brain condition. Republicans might follow past tradition and count Johnson in the Democrats total even if he couldn’t attend Senate sessions and vote. This would make the division 50-50.
If that happened, then it would be up to the new vice president (Lieberman) to break the tie and decide which party could have the authority to organize the Senate. Would Lieberman vote with his old Democratic colleagues and thus permit Democratic control to continue, or would he vote with his new Republican benefactor, George W. Bush, and permit Republicans to control the Senate? No one can know for sure, though you can bet that Bush and Rove would have a conversation about that subject with Lieberman before he would be nominated.
This whole scenario would put Senate Democrats in an untenable position. If they (or their House colleagues who also must vote on a vice presidential nomination) were to defeat Lieberman’s nomination, he might be sufficiently angry that he would change his position and vote to organize with the Republicans, creating a 50-50 tie in the Senate which would be broken by a new Republican vice president. If they voted to confirm Lieberman they would jeopardize control of the Senate unless they were able to extract from him a commitment that he would not break a 50-50 tie in favor of the Republicans.
Of course, he might not reveal his plans in advance and they would have to roll the dice.
The wild card in this whole equation would be the effect that Democratic opposition to a Lieberman vice presidency would have on the Jewish vote in the next presidential election. Jewish voters cast their ballots overwhelmingly for Democratic Congressional candidates (87 percent Democratic by one estimate) in 2006 and have supported Democratic presidential candidates by significant margins in recent elections.
Even a relatively small shift in the Jewish vote could tip states like Michigan, Illinois or Pennsylvania to the Republican column in a close presidential race.
Karl Rove certainly can’t be wishing Vice President Cheney any bad luck, but what an extraordinary opportunity this would present to the 21st century disciple of Machiavelli.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Flanigan and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.