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Lieberman Defends Decision to Run as Independent in U.S. Senate Race

August 9, 2006 at 1:01 PM EDT

GWEN IFILL: And now to Senator Joe Lieberman, now an independent candidate for re-election. Welcome, Senator.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Good to be with you, Gwen. I’m an independent Democratic candidate for senator.

GWEN IFILL: OK, well, that leads to my first question: Why are you doing this? Why are you running as an independent?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, I’m doing this because I want to continue the discussion that barely got started during the primary campaign when my opponent distorted so much of my record.

I’m doing it, also, frankly, because I’m fed up with the partisanship in Washington and the way in which primaries have skewered our whole political system, where people on either end of the spectrum tend to dominate primaries and it leaves out all the people in the middle. I want to offer a choice to all of the people in the middle in November.

And the premise of my campaign to the people of Connecticut will be quite simple: This is about the future. This is about your future. And you’ve got to decide which one of us, Joe Lieberman, Ned Lamont or the Republican candidate, can do a better job for you. And I think, on the record, I’m the person who can do that better job.

Support from Democrats

Sen. Joe Lieberman
I think my opponent just comes, not only without experience, but without the capacity to work across party lines to get something done. The Senate doesn't need one more partisan polarizer.

GWEN IFILL: A lot of the Democrats in Connecticut who had supported you, including the head of the party, including the senior senator, including some members of Congress and some candidates for Congress, all gathered today in Hartford and said they were going to support Ned Lamont. What did you feel about watching that unfold?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, I fully expected it. I know most of the elected officials, some of whom are good friends of mine, feel that they have to play by the traditional party rules.

I will tell you this, Gwen: It puts me in a position I've been in before, and it's one that I like. I'm the challenger, in that sense now running against the establishment.

I'll say something else. If endorsements were that influential, the result of the primary yesterday would have been different. So this is really all about the voters of Connecticut and their assessment of the three major candidates for Senate in Connecticut and what each of us can do better for their future.

GWEN IFILL: Did I detect a suggestion there that perhaps former President Clinton's endorsement of you didn't do all that much good?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, I wasn't singling -- look, I was thrilled that he came in. But the fact is, people decide on their own. And, look, that's something else that I'm going to reflect in this campaign.

I had talked to so many voters over the years who have said to me, "Oh, I'm a member of this or that party, but I vote for the person. I vote for the candidate that I think can do the best job for our state and country."

And that's the way I am when I'm in the Senate. I'm devoted to the Democratic Party, but I'm always going to do, on each issue, what I think is best for my state and country, regardless of what the party orthodoxy seems to be.

And I think my opponent just comes, not only without experience, but without the capacity to work across party lines to get something done. The Senate doesn't need one more partisan polarizer. It needs more people who are willing to actually do something to solve the problems that face our country, in health care, price of energy, education, global warming, environmental protection, the kinds of things that I have made priorities for 18 years and that I will continue to work for in the six years ahead.

Repudiation of voters' decision

GWEN IFILL: Senator Dodd, your old friend, seat mate, senior senator, said today that he regretted your decision to pursue an independent candidacy. I assume you talked to him about that, and I wonder whether you are concerned at all that some voters may look at your decision as a repudiation of what the voters decided.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Not at all. I mean, look, I was endorsed for the U.S. Senate by the Democratic convention this spring. Ned Lamont used the right that he has under law to challenge me in a primary. He was endorsed in the primary yesterday, and I'm using the right to go on and challenge that as an independent petitioning Democratic candidate.

I think this is all good for our state, for our democracy, and for our party. But the important point is: The voters deserve the final word.

Yesterday, about 15 percent of the registered voters in Connecticut participated in the Democratic primary. I want the other 85 percent to have a chance to decide whether they want me to continue working for them, fighting for them, winning for them, or they want to turn this over to somebody with no experience, who, by everything he has said, would have a total inability to get things done for the people of Connecticut and for our state generally.

Is it about President Bush?

Sen. Joe Lieberman
What I think my opponent did was to convince a lot of Democrats in Connecticut who voted yesterday that they had one last chance to express their anger toward George Bush by voting against me, but that was really an outrageous thing to do...

GWEN IFILL: Democrats said today that they didn't think that this outcome had as much to do with the war as it had to do with your closeness to President Bush. And, in fact, these exit polls show that nearly 60 percent of the voters yesterday did think you -- 60 percent thought you were too close to President Bush. What do you say to that?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, I say that's one of the big distortions and big lies that my opponent peddled. I mean, the reality is, look at it issue by issue. I have opposed President Bush, stood up and fought him on most every major initiative of his administration: tax cuts for the wealthy; the withdrawal from the Kyoto global warming agreement; the effort to privatize Social Security.

I could go on and on. So that is just a mistake. And what I think my opponent did was to convince a lot of Democrats in Connecticut who voted yesterday that they had one last chance to express their anger toward George Bush by voting against me, but that was really an outrageous thing to do, since self-evidently I'm not George Bush. And as I said, I've opposed him on most of what he's done.

But, look, I'm an independent Democrat, and if I agree with somebody on one issue, even if I disagree with him on everything else, I'm going to work with that person to try to get something done for my state and country. In my opinion, there's too little of that in Washington today, and that's why we are not dealing with so many fundamental problems our country faces or not taking advantage of so many opportunities.

And, look, it is a problem in both parties. I'm fed up with it. And in a way that I didn't choose but has happened, this campaign gives me an opportunity to campaign for a new politics of unity and purpose, where you're proud of your devotion to your party, but you realize that your ultimate responsibility is to get something done for your state and your country.

That's what I'm about, and that's what I'm going to be about for six more years.


GWEN IFILL: As you know, you are not the only Democrat to vote for this war, and I wonder if you think that what happened to you should be a lesson of any kind to other Democrats around the country who have thought -- who have supported the president on the war.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, I hope it's not a lesson. I hope that people are still prepared to do what they think is right. We're talking about our national security here.

And my opponent has said that he now -- it took him three or four tries, but he finally settled on a position. He wants to set a deadline by which all U.S. troops are out of Iraq. Look, because I've supported the war, nobody wants to get our troops out of Iraq more than I do, but if you set a deadline like that, you warn our enemies; they'll lay back; the militias will build up.

And when we leave, if that ever happened like that, Iraq would fall apart, the Middle East would be destabilized, and al-Qaida would have a base in Iraq from which they would strike us again. I think we're at a position to begin to withdraw our troops, but that's a judgment that the generals in Iraq have to make, not some politician back here in Connecticut or Washington.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Joseph Lieberman, thank you very much for joining us.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Gwen, good to be with you, and I look forward to seeing you for the next three exciting months.