WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, took a first step on Thursday toward finding out what punishment he may face for backing Republican John McCain for president this year.
Lieberman met privately with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who afterward reiterated Democratic concerns and said they would have more talks before deciding what to do.
Lieberman has given no indication that he might become a Republican. But a Senate aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, “He’s keeping all his options open.”
During the meeting in Reid’s office, Lieberman rejected a proposed reprimand that included him being stripped of the chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee, the aide said.
Lieberman backed McCain over Obama for president largely because McCain, unlike Obama, supported the Iraq war. He appeared regularly with McCain on the campaign trail and spoke at the Republican Party’s national convention.
Democrats expanded their majority in Tuesday’s election and no longer need Lieberman as a member of their caucus to retain Senate control. His was the 51st vote that gave Democrats a majority, enabling their control of all committees and legislation.
Lieberman was elected to a fourth term in 2006 as an independent after losing the Democratic primary in Connecticut largely because of his support for the unpopular Iraq war. But he remained in the Senate Democratic caucus.
Democratic lawmakers and aides said they do not expect Reid to expel Lieberman from their caucus, but that the 66-year-old senator might decide to leave.
Lieberman spoke briefly to reporters after meeting with Reid.
“The election is over, and I completely agree with (Democratic) President-elect (Barack) Obama that we must now unite to get our economy going again and to keep the American people safe,” Lieberman said.
“That is exactly what I intend to do,” Lieberman said. “And those are the standards I will use in considering the options that I have before me.”
Neither he or Reid explained what options he had.
But as the Senate aide put it: “There’s nothing firm right now on either side.”
Democratic aides noted that with the exception of the war, Lieberman has routinely voted with the party on matters from the environment to health care.
In a written statement, Reid said: ”While I understand that Senator Lieberman has voted with Democrats a majority of the time, his comments and actions have raised serious concerns among many in our caucus.
“I expect there to be additional discussions in the days to come, and Senator Lieberman and I will speak to our caucus in two weeks to discuss further steps,” Reid said.
In endorsing McCain, Lieberman became the first nominee of a major party presidential ticket to later support a candidate of the opposing party. He was Al Gore’s No. 2 in the 2000 White House race.
Reid, who requested Thursday’s meeting, had “a genuinely friendly discussion” with Lieberman, the Senate aide said.
Lieberman reminded Reid that in leaving the Democratic Party in 2006, he said he would view the 2008 presidential election as an independent, the aide said.
The aide said Lieberman also noted that he kept his word to remain in the Democratic caucus the past two years so Democrats could retain control of the Senate, 51-49.
Editing by Xavier Briand and Jackie Frank