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Ex-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, onetime Democratic vice presidential nominee, dies at 82

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Joe Lieberman, a centrist politician from Connecticut, died yesterday due to complications from a fall. He was 82 years old. Lieberman was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000, but later ran for his Senate seat as an independent. In 2011, when he announced he wouldn't run for a fifth Senate term, he described himself like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE LIEBERMAN: I have not always fit comfortably into conventional political boxes - maybe you've noticed that - Democrat, Republican, liberal or conservative - because I've always thought that my first responsibility is not to serve a political party, but to serve my constituents, my state and my country, and then to work across party lines to make sure good things get done for them.

FADEL: Molly Ingram is a reporter at WSHU in Connecticut and joins us now. Hi, Molly.

MOLLY INGRAM, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So if we could start by you just talking about Lieberman's career, his political career.

INGRAM: Yeah. Lieberman began his political career in the Connecticut State Senate. He was there for 10 years. Former president Bill Clinton actually worked on Lieberman's first campaign. Both men went to Yale. He then became the state's attorney general and later represented Connecticut in the U.S. Senate for more than 20 years. He retired in 2013 as an independent. He also came close to being vice president. He was on Al Gore's ticket in 2000. That was a race that the pair actually won the popular vote for, but they didn't have enough support in the Electoral College to take it all the way. During his time in the Senate, he's probably most famous for his efforts to create the Department of Homeland Security after the 9/11 attacks. He also helped to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which allowed LGBTQ+ people to be out in the military.

FADEL: A huge legacy and a legacy he had as a centrist, which is pretty rare today. How did this impact his life in politics?

INGRAM: Yeah. You know, by the end of his career, he had lost the support of a lot of Democratic voters in Connecticut. He says his support for the war in Iraq is the reason he lost a bid for the presidency in 2004 and why he lost the Democratic nomination for senator in 2006 to Ned Lamont, who is now the state's governor. Although Lieberman lost the Democratic Party nomination, he later won that Senate seat in Connecticut, running as an independent. He sided with Democrats on issues like abortion and civil rights, but with Republicans on defense policy. He was also one of the first Democrats to speak out against Bill Clinton for his relationship with Monica Lewinsky when she was an intern. He supported McCain over Obama in 2008, nobody in 2012, and then Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016. And in 2020, he supported President Joe Biden.

FADEL: And most recently, he was working with No Labels. If you could talk about his involvement in that group.

INGRAM: Yeah. Lieberman was a founding member of No Labels. That's a group that promotes bipartisanship and is fielding a unity ticket for the 2024 presidential race. Lieberman was promoting the group as recently as a few weeks ago. He was definitely vested in the idea that there needed to be an alternative to the traditional two-party system.

FADEL: Now, how have people in Connecticut been reacting to Lieberman's passing?

INGRAM: So the first thing that comes to mind is surprise. This wasn't expected at all. U.S. Senator Chris Murphy spoke about him last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRIS MURPHY: In an era where folks want to filter everything into a partisan understanding of the world, he was maddening. He was frustrating, right? But he was Joe Lieberman, and he was somebody that shaped policy. Not every senator gets to do that.

FADEL: Molly Ingram is a reporter at WSHU in Connecticut. Thanks, Molly.

INGRAM: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Molly Ingram
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