Former Sen. Joe Lieberman dies at 82


Joe Lieberman, the first Jewish vice-presidential nominee of a major party, whose conscience and independent streak later led him on a journey away from his home in the Democratic Party, has died at 82, according to a statement from his family.

The former Connecticut senator passed away Wednesday due to complications from a fall in New York. His wife Hadassah and members of his family were by his side.

The peak of Lieberman’s political career came when he was chosen by Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000 as his running mate. The disputed election was eventually decided by the Supreme Court in favor of then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Lieberman had hailed his selection as a historic breakthrough for Jewish Americans.

On many issues, like abortion and economic policy, Lieberman was a mainstream Democrat. But in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks, his hawkish instincts on foreign policy put him increasingly at odds with his own party, and he was a strong supporter of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which led to a prolonged conflict that many of his fellow Democrats came to oppose.

He mounted his own campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, but the run failed to take off, further increasing his distance from the party’s core base voters after he refused to repudiate the war in Iraq. That position also led to him losing the Democratic primary for his own seat in 2006. But he ran as an independent anyway and won the election, returning to the Senate.

In 2008, Lieberman infuriated Democrats even more by showing up at the Republican National Convention in support of his dear friend, Arizona Sen. John McCain, that year’s Republican presidential nominee. Many Democrats perceived an act of treachery when he criticized Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, as “a gifted and eloquent young man” but warned that he was too inexperienced to be president.

McCain, who died in 2018 and was eulogized by Lieberman, later admitted that he wished he had chosen Lieberman as the vice presidential nominee on his ticket instead of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whose selection sparked an extraordinary outburst of support from the Republican base but later became a liability as her deep inexperience on the national stage harmed McCain’s losing campaign.

Lieberman’s move to the right represented an intriguing political reinvention. But perhaps it should not have been a complete surprise.

After years of diligent service in the Senate, Lieberman rocketed to public attention in 1998 during the scandal over President Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. In a stunning public condemnation of Clinton by a fellow Democrat, Lieberman slammed his friend’s behavior as “immoral,” “disgraceful” and deserving of “public rebuke and accountability.” His speech from the Senate floor was seen by many Democrats at the time as an act of disloyalty. Still, Lieberman later voted after a Senate trial not to convict Clinton for high crimes and misdemeanors after he was impeached by the House of Representatives.


Lieberman describes the ‘hardest thing’ he’s ever done in public life (1998)

In his final years, he was angering Democrats yet again. He was the founding chairman of the No Labels Group that has been considering an independent presidential ticket that many Democrats fear could splinter President Joe Biden’s vote and help elect presumptive Republican nominee former President Donald Trump in November.

Lieberman’s family broke the news of his passing in a statement that paid tribute to his groundbreaking American story.

“Former United States Senator Joseph I. Lieberman died this afternoon, March 27, 2024, in New York City due to complications from a fall. He was 82 years old. His beloved wife, Hadassah, and members of his family were with him as he passed,”the statement said.

“Senator Lieberman’s love of God, his family, and America endured throughout his life of service in the public interest,” the statement said.

Allies and former opponents alike were quick to remember the political maverick on Wednesday.

Bush in a statement said that as he and his wife, Laura, pray for the Lieberman family, “we also pray that Joe’s example of decency guides our Nation’s leaders now and into the future.”

“He engaged in serious and thoughtful debate with opposing voices on important issues. And in both loss and victory, Joe Lieberman was always a gentleman. I’m grateful for Joe’s principled service to our country and for the dignity and patriotism he brought to public life,” the former president and Lieberman’s former rival said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a social media post said, “I am devastated to hear about the passing of our former colleague Senator Joe Lieberman. My heart is with his beloved wife Hadassah and his family, and I am praying for all who knew and loved him.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was part of the so-called “Three Amigos” along with fellow senators Lieberman and McCain, said the news of his friend’s passing was “devastatingly sad.”

“The good news, he is in the hands of the loving God. The bad news, John McCain is giving him an earful about how screwed up things are,” Graham also wrote.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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