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DCNOW Mourns D.C. Champion U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman

By: Miriam Edelman

DCNOW mourns history-making D.C. advocate U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman. On March 27, 2024, he died at age 82 from fall-related complications in New York City.  Lieberman, who represented Connecticut in the Senate from 1989 through 2013, was a Democrat-turned-Independent Democrat.

 

Lieberman was active in presidential politics. In 2000, Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, made history as the first and still only Jewish person on a major party presidential ticket when then-U.S. Vice President Al Gore named Lieberman as his running mate. The Gore-Lieberman ticket won the popular vote, but lost the electoral vote after the U.S. Supreme Court stopped Florida’s recount, effectively giving the presidency to Republican Presidential nominee Bush in Bush v Gore. In 2004, Lieberman ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Presidential nomination. In 2008, Republican Presidential nominee John McCain (R-AZ) considered naming Lieberman as his running mate, but instead, he chose then-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK). Republicans persuaded McCain that choosing Lieberman would create a rift within the Republican party. McCain and Leiberman were part of a bipartisan “Three Amigos” friendship with current U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

 

On December 20, 2012 (soon before Lieberman left the Senate), U.S. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) introduced H.Res.842 - Recognizing the contributions of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman to the nation and to the equal rights and general welfare of the citizens of District of Columbia. Referring to him as “the Senate’s greatest living champion of equal rights for the citizens of the District of Columbia in his pursuit of statehood, equal representation and home rule for the District,” it listed his D.C.-focused achievements: 

“Whereas Senator Joseph I. Lieberman has been a tireless leader on matters that have had deep and lasting effects on the District of Columbia and the national capital region throughout his service in the United States Senate and on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee;”

“Whereas Senator Joseph I. Lieberman has served as chairman or ranking member of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over the District of Columbia since 1999;”

“Whereas Senator Joseph I. Lieberman served as the ranking member of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the District of Columbia during the 105th Congress;”

- "Whereas Senator Joseph I. Lieberman has provided indispensable leadership to the District of Columbia, which has no representation in the United States Senate, enabling both Chambers to consider and pass important District of Columbia legislation;”

“Whereas Senator Joseph I. Lieberman was the sponsor of the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009 (S. 160; 111th Congress) to grant the District a voting seat in the United States House of Representatives and led the United States Senate to passage of the bill on February 26, 2009, by a vote of 61–37, the first such bill to be passed by the Senate since 1978;”

“Whereas Senator Joseph I. Lieberman was the sponsor of the No Taxation Without Representation Act (107th, 108th, and 109th Congress) to grant the District of Columbia full voting representation in the United States Senate and House of Representatives, which the Committee on Governmental Affairs passed on October 9, 2002, by a vote of 9–0;”

“Whereas Senator Joseph I. Lieberman introduced the New Columbia Admission Act (S. 3696; 112th Congress), to grant the District of Columbia statehood in the 112th Congress and got cosponsors for the bill;”

“Whereas recently, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman turned his attention to budget autonomy for the District of Columbia when it became the emphasis of the District government, the only local government in the United States that cannot obligate or expend its local funds without congressional approval, and therefore incurs many operational difficulties and unnecessary costs;”

“Whereas Senator Joseph I. Lieberman sponsored the District of Columbia Local Budget Autonomy Act of 2012 (S. 2345; 112th Congress), to grant the District the authority to obligate and expend its local funds without congressional approval and to set its own fiscal year;”

“Whereas Senator Joseph I. Lieberman has assisted in the administration of justice in the District of Columbia Courts system, most recently by ushering through the United States Senate legislation including the District of Columbia Courts and Public Defender Service Act of 2011 (S. 1379; 112th Congress), which was presented to the President on December 17, 2012;”

“Whereas Senator Joseph I. Lieberman has worked to eliminate barriers to full equality and self-government for District of Columbia residents as an original cosponsor of the Hatch Act Modernization Act of 2012 (S. 2170; 112th Congress), approved by the United States Senate on November 30, 2012, and by the United States House of Representatives on December 19, 2012, under which District government employees will no longer be treated the same as Federal employees under the Hatch Act and instead will be treated the same as other local and State government employees, and the District government will operate under its own local Hatch Act, already adopted by the District government;”

"Whereas Senator Joseph I. Lieberman has strengthened the District of Columbia economy, most recently by his work to get Senate passage of economic development bills, including the redevelopment of the Southwest and Southeast waterfronts, and by promoting the construction of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security headquarters on the St. Elizabeths campus in Ward 8; and”

“Whereas Senator Joseph I. Lieberman has supported critical education initiatives in the District of Columbia, such as the District of Columbia Tuition Assistance Grant Program, which significantly reduces the cost of college tuition for District residents and has doubled college attendance by District residents”

In 2012, Lieberman introduced a D.C. statehood bill, the first statehood bill since 1993.

 

After leaving the Senate, Lieberman continued his support of D.C. residents. In 2021, Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE), the U.S. Senate sponsor of that year’s statehood bill, looked to Lieberman for guidance. He portrayed Lieberman as the ideal independent to frame statehood as a civil rights matter without partisan ties. On June 22, 2021, Lieberman testified at the Senate’s Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee’s “Examaining D.C. Statehood” hearing. As Lieberman said, anti-statehood arguments are “legalistic disputations and ultimately excuses for something that is inexcusable.” He also stated that Congress should not “condition the enjoyment of constitutional rights on political party membership, any more than Congress would condition access to constitutional rights on citizens’ race or gender or sexual orientation.”


Like many others, Norton mourns Lieberman. In her March 28, 2024, press release, she said:

I am deeply saddened by the loss of my good friend, Senator Joe Lieberman. Throughout his career, Senator Lieberman was a champion of D.C. statehood and equality for the residents of the District. He was the Senate sponsor of the D.C. statehood bill for many Congresses. Even after his retirement, Senator Lieberman fought for statehood. In 2021, Senator Lieberman returned to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which he had chaired while he was in the Senate, to advocate for D.C. statehood. I will be forever grateful for Senator Lieberman’s contributions, not just for D.C. statehood, but to our nation. May his memory be of a blessing.

 

Let’s honor Lieberman. The District of Columbia needs more champions like him.

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