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Lieberman Says He’s ‘Pleasantly Encouraged’ By Obama, But Disagrees With His Middle East And Health Care Agenda

In an interview with Bloomberg’s Al Hunt, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) — who campaigned hard against President Obama during the 2008 election and supported his Republican challenger John McCain — said that he’s impressed with how Obama is handling the job.

“Put me down now as pleasantly encouraged by the first five months,” Lieberman said. “He has been strong, particularly on foreign policy. I think President Obama is off to a very, very good start in a very difficult time in our nation’s history.” Lieberman lauded Obama’s recent Cairo speech to the Muslim world, saying it was a “significant step overall. … My guess is he opened some minds in the Muslim world.”

Despite the laudatory comments of Obama’s foreign policy vision, Lieberman offered criticism of the president’s efforts to urge Israel to stop its settlement activities. “I thought the focus on the President’s direct call in that speech in Cairo for the Israelis to freeze all settlement activity — including the ‘natural growth’ of settlements that everybody agrees are no longer settlements — …that was risky in the sense that it may lead listeners to believe that the main reason there is not an Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is the Israeli settlement policy,” he said:

HUNT: Do you disagree then with the President and Secretary Clinton that there ought to be a freeze — no growth in those settlements now?

LIEBERMAN: I do. I disagree.

Watch it:

On Obama’s domestic agenda, Lieberman announced his opposition to a public health insurance option. “I don’t favor a public option, and I don’t favor a public option because I think there’s plenty of competition in the private insurance market,” he argued. (He’s wrong.) Lieberman warned that political pressure in favor of the public option may thwart efforts at achieving health care reform. “Let’s get something done instead of having a debate,” he said.

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Separately, Lieberman said he “could support” the Waxman-Markey clean energy legislation in the House. “It’s a great act of legislative leadership,” he added, saying the critical issue is convincing “people from states that get a lot of their electricity from coal-burning power plants that we can make this change without skyrocketing the cost of living and the cost of doing business.”

Update:

Also, in an interview with NPR, Lieberman said Obama should consider keeping the Guantanamo Bay detention center open.