Joe Lieberman Dies: Former Senator And Vice Presidential Candidate Was 82

Joe Lieberman Dies: Former Senator And Vice Presidential Candidate Was 82

Joe Lieberman, the former Connecticut senator and Al Gore’s Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000, has died. He was 82.

His family said in a statement that he died due to complications from a fall.

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“Senator Lieberman’s love of God, his family and America endured throughout his life of service in the public interest,” his family said. His wife, Hadassah, and other family members were at his side when he died, according to the statement.

At the time of his death, Lieberman was leading an effort to recruit a candidate for the group No Labels, which has been seeking a “unity” ticket to run independently of the Democratic and Republican parties.

Lieberman held to the view that, even in a time of hyper polarization, there was a common ground to be found in politics. His own career reflected that, and even those who criticized his positions found him friendly, kind and polite.

“While we often disagreed on politics, no one could doubt his love of his family, his home state of Connecticut and his country,” former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

Lieberman was the first — and so far only — Jewish person to be selected for a major party ticket.

Still, when Vice President Al Gore selected him in 2000, the choice was still was greeted somewhat coolly on the progressive side of the party, as he had staked out centrist and even conservative positions during his tenure in Congress. The Democratic ticket won the popular vote but eventually lost to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in a historically close election that led to a recount that introduced many Americans to the “hanging chad.” After months of legal wrangling and controversy the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to end the recount, handing the election to the GOP. Gore would concede shortly afterward.

The election, controversy and aftermath was depicted in the Emmy-winning 2008 HBO telefilm Recount, directed by Jay Roach. Lieberman appeared in the movie as several of its cast members watched him on Meet the Press. The room reacted with groans when he said, “I, myself, would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel” – a view that was contrary to Gore’s challenge of such ballots. Later, Ron Klain (played by Kevin Spacey), then Gore’s chief of staff, said, “I think Joe Lieberman just entered the 2004 primary.”

Lieberman did run for president in 2004, but failed to gain traction in the early contests for the nomination.

Two years later, as he ran for re-election to the Senate, he lost the Democratic primary to a more progressive challenge. Determined to retain his seat, Lieberman instead ran as a third party candidate, calling himself an independent Democrat, and won in the general election. He remained registered with the party during the campaign, and continued to caucus with the party.

Born on February 24, 1942, in Stamford, CT, Lieberman served as Connecticut’s attorney general from 1983 to 1989, when he was sworn in after being elected to the Senate.

Along the way, he held a high profile committee post, chairing the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee from 2001 to 2003, and again from 2007 to 2013, during the Obama administration. He also introduced legislation that would lead to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. As Obama, in his first year, sought to secure the votes for signature health care legislation, Lieberman opposed a the public health insurance option in the Affordable Care Act bill, leading to its removal as a way of securing the required votes to get the legislation to the floor.

By that time, Lieberman had become somewhat of an outcast in his own party. In 2008, he spoke at the Republican National Convention and endorsed the party’s presidential nominee John McCain. McCain wanted to pick Lieberman, his close friend, as his running mate that year. But McCain ultimately was convinced not to under threat of a party revolt over Lieberman’s support for abortion rights. McCain instead chose Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor, only to lose the November election.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), another close friend, said in a statement today, “The good news, he is in the hands of the loving God. The bad news, John McCain is giving him an earful about how screwed up things are.”

Lieberman left the Senate in 2013.

Obama said in a statement, “Joe Lieberman and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but he had an extraordinary career in public service, including four decades spent fighting for the people of Connecticut. He also worked hard to repeal ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ and helped us pass the Affordable Care Act. In both cases the politics were difficult, but he stuck to his principles because he knew it was the right thing to do.”

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Lieberman often was a target of late-night comedy shows, with Chris Parnell playing him the night that Gore hosted the NBC staple. He was a frequent target on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart‘s Indecision 2000 episodes, with the then-host skewering Lieberman by comparing him to the canine cartoon character Droopy. The senator himself seemed to have good humor about it, as he appeared on the show more than a half-dozen times.

Lieberman also was a frequent presence on Sunday Beltway shows, and guested on talkers hosted by Conan O’Brien, Larry King, Tavis Smiley and Charlie Rose. He also was on the panel for a late-1999 episode of Bill Maher’s ABC show Politically Incorrect.

Gore wrote on X/Twitter about his former running mate, “Joe was a man of deep integrity who dedicated his life to serving his country. He was a truly gifted leader, whose affable personality and strong will made him a force to be reckoned with. That’s why it came as no surprise to any of us who knew him when he’d start singing his favorite song: Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’. And doing things Joe’s way meant always putting his country and the values of equality and fairness first.”

Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.


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