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Senate warm on Lieberman return

Published September 7, 2006

WASHINGTON - Democrats applauded, and a Republican colleague gave him a hug.

Turns out, Sen. Joe Lieberman still has plenty of friends in Congress.

Weeks after Lieberman lost the Democratic primary - and defied his party with an independent bid - the three-term Connecticut senator was greeted warmly Wednesday as he attended his party's weekly luncheon and participated in Senate business.

Democrats gave Lieberman an ovation as Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., introduced him at the lunch and welcomed him back. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine shared a hug with Lieberman on the Senate floor.

"My colleagues were as warm and collegial as you would expect them to be," Lieberman said of his reception on Capitol Hill.

The cordial response reflected a harsh political reality. If Democrats manage to gain six seats in November and Lieberman wins, the party will need him to take majority control. Lieberman, the party's 2000 vice presidential nominee, has said he would caucus with Democrats if he prevails in his independent run.

"I didn't sense any awkwardness in there. There was no discussion about him and Connecticut and his future," said Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., one of a few Democrats who are supporting Lieberman's re-election. "It was hearty applause welcoming him back and, I think probably through that, sending him a signal that he's very, very welcome in our caucus."

The response also highlighted how the Senate works. At 18 years and counting, Lieberman is a member of that venerable club.

But election year's bare knuckles weren't far away, and neither was Lieberman's chief rival, Democratic nominee Ned Lamont.

Reid met with Lamont, the challenger who rode opposition to the Iraq war to the party nomination Aug. 8. Reid is supporting the Democratic nominee, who also was in Washington to confer with labor unions and party leaders.

[Last modified September 7, 2006, 05:17:40]

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