What if Lieberman Leaves?

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Commentator sgwhitefla got me thinking in the last post: what happens if Joe Lieberman decides to leave the Senate tomorrow? The caucus is meeting to determine his fate and if he does leave, he would throw the majority of the chamber to the GOP for all of the three days left in the session. It’s an interesting question, so I asked the Senate Historian’s Office. Turns out there are two precedents:

1)    In the 83rd Congress in the 1950’s there was a series of untimely deaths – nine in total – which left the majority with fewer seats, at times, than the minority. But all two-year sessions are done under organizing resolutions and this one did not prepare/allow for a change in power so the majority retained control throughout the session.

2)   Some of you may remember the tumultuous 107th Congress where the Senate was split 50-50. Vice President Al Gore gave the Dems the majority Jan. 3-20 and then Vice President Dick Cheney gave the GOP majority from Jan. 3-June 6 when Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords defected to the other side, handing Daschle control of the chamber for the remainder of the session. That was only possible because the organizing resolution had built into it a clause that allowed for shifts in majority status.

I’m told that there is no such clause this time around as when they were organizing in 2006 South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson had his unfortunately health scare and adding in such a provision seemed, well, morbidly unseemly. A source also tells me this time around there’s a kind of unspoken gentleman’s agreement that the GOP isn’t going to force a switch over for the remaining few days if indeed Lieberman switches sides. And, when asked about this, Jim Manley, senior adviser to Harry Reid, bristled: Lieberman’s “not going anywhere and we are not losing the majority.”