Onetime Democrat VP Nominee and Former Senator Joe Lieberman Dies at 82

Former United States Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who was Democrat Presidential nominee Al Gore’s running mate during the 200 election and almost the running mate for GOP Senator John McCain just eight years later, has passed away, according to a family statement.

Lieberman died Wednesday in New York City because of complications related to a fall. He was 82 years old.

The fiercely independent Democrat turned Independent often veered from the party line.

Lieberman frequently needled Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama throughout the 2008 presidential contest — rankling his party at the time. However, his support for civil rights, environmental causes, gay rights, and abortion rights won him praise from many over the years.

He was the first Jewish candidate on a major party’s presidential ticket and would have been the first Jewish vice president.

Additionally, he was also the first national Dem to criticize President Bill Clinton publicly for his extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern.

Lieberman sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 but had a weak showing and dropped out early in the primaries. 

Four years prior, he was an Independent who was almost chosen to be McCain’s running mate. Lieberman and McCain were close pals with hawkish views on national security and military matters.

Lieberman defended any partisan switches he made as a matter of conscience, claiming he always had Connecticut voters’ best interests at heart. With every switch, critics pounced.

When he announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate in 2013, Liberman acknowledged he did “not always fit comfortably into conventional political boxes” and felt his utmost responsibility was to serve his state, constituents, and country, not the political party he belonged to.

During his final speech in the Senate, Liberman implored Congress to go beyond partisan rancor and party lines to break the gridlock in Washington.

“It requires reaching across the aisle and finding partners from the opposite party,” Lieberman said. “That is what is desperately needed in Washington now.”

In private, some Democrats were uncharitable about Lieberman’s crossing of party lines, which they viewed as disloyal. He left his party, turning Independent after a 2006 Connecticut Senate primary loss.

Joe Lieberman’s strong support of the Iraq War harmed his popularity statewide. Democrats rejected Liberman and gave the 2006 primary to Ned Lamont, an anti-war candidate and political newcomer.

Defying Democrat friends and leaders, Lieberman ran for reelection successfully as an Independent and drew support from some GOP allies. The former senator won praise from the White House and helped with fundraising from leading Republicans, like Mike Bloomberg, then mayor of New York, who later ran as an Independent.

Lieberman won a fourth term despite several longtime friends and Dem allies supporting Lamont. 

After his 2006 reelection, Lieberman caucused with Democrats in the Senate, who allowed him to lead a committee to maintain control of a closely divided chamber. However, it was only a short time before Lieberman’s independent streak ruffled his colleagues.

Although he caucused in with Democrats, Lieberman was enthusiastic about John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

During Lieberman’s speech at the 2008 Republican presidential nominating convention, he criticized Obama, the Democratic nominee, which struck a deep nerve with numerous Dems.

Lieberman painted Obama as a political show pony, an inexperienced lightweight with a slim record of accomplishment in the Senate despite his eloquence when speaking.

“In the Senate, during the 3 ½ years that Sen. Obama has been a member, he has not reached across party lines to … accomplish anything significant, nor has he been willing to take on powerful interest groups in the Democratic Party to get something done,” said Lieberman at the convention.

Lieberman campaigned cross-country for McCain, which many Dems considered a betrayal of Obama.

Following the election, there was speculation that Democrats in the Senate might strip Lieberman of his Governmental Affairs Committee and Senate Homeland Security chairmanship as payback; however, Obama requested Lieberman remain.

In the Senate, Lieberman was known for his hawkish pro-defense and foreign policy views and solid support for environmental causes.

Five weeks following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, Lieberman became one of the first politicians to call for the leader of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, to be ousted and voted later in favor of the military invasion of Iraq. His vocal support of the war later helped halt his candidacy for president.

Lieberman played a significant role in the legislation that created the Department of Homeland Security.

Lieberman was raised in Stamford, Connecticut, where his father ran a liquor store. He graduated from Yale University and Yale Law School in New Haven. While serving as Connecticut’s attorney general from 1983 to 1988, he was a strong environmental and consumer advocate. 

Following departure from the Senate in 2013, Lieberman joined a law firm in New York City.

Lieberman and his wife, Hadassah, have four grown children.