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Joe Lieberman, first Jewish vice-presidential nominee of a major party, dies at 82

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), who became the first Jewish vice-presidential candidate of a major party when Al Gore selected him as his running mate in the 2000 election, has died at age 82.

His family said he died Wednesday in New York City surrounded by family, including his wife Hadassah, after suffering complications from a fall.

His funeral will be held at the Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, Conn., his hometown.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who took over Lieberman’s seat after he retired from the Senate, expressed shock over his sudden death.

“In an era of political carbon copies, Joe Lieberman was a singularity. One of one. He fought and won for what he believed was right and for the state he adored. My thoughts are with Hadassah and the entire family,” he said.

Lieberman was one of the most conservative members of the Senate Democratic caucus and burst into the national spotlight in 1998 by scolding then-President Clinton on the Senate floor over his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, calling his conduct “disgraceful” and disappointing.

His independent streak factored into Gore’s decision to select him as a running mate, which enabled the then-vice president to put some distance between himself and the scandals of the Clinton administration.

The Connecticut senator was known as a champion of the defense industry, which has a heavy presence in his home state, and extolled muscular national security policy.

His strong support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq later derailed his own bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and eventually led to a major falling out with liberals in his party.

He lost the 2006 Senate Democratic primary to Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont but won reelection to a fourth term by running as an “Independent Democrat.”

He campaigned for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) against Barack Obama in the 2008 election.  McCain even strongly considered picking Lieberman as his running mate before choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin instead.

After the 2008 election, when Senate Democrats controlled 59 seats and then 60 seats during Obama’s first two years in the White House, Lieberman proved to be a tough vote to corral for Obama’s agenda.

He worked with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and late-Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) in 2009 to slim down Obama’s requested economic stimulus package to $789 billion.

And he was a key player in the negotiations over Obama’s Affordable Care Act, forcing Democrats to drop a proposal to set up a public option to allow the government to compete directly with insurance companies.

Despite his differences with fellow Democrats, Lieberman was highly respected within the Senate for his high integrity and pragmatism.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the highest-ranking Jewish congressional leader in American history, said he was “devastated” to hear of Lieberman’s passing.

“My heart is with his beloved wife Hadassah and his family, and I am praying for all who knew and loved him,” Schumer said.

Collins, a fellow centrist, praised him as a “dear friend, a wonderful senator and a true patriot.”

“He not only was one of the best legislators I have ever known, but also one of the best human beings. We worked so closely together on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, passing numerous bipartisan bills. I am heartbroken to learn of his passing.”

Lieberman rejected the tribalism of modern American politics and sought to promote his brand of pragmatic centrism by co-founding No Labels, a group that is seeking to recruit a prominent candidate to wage a third-party bid for president this year.

He came under heavy criticism from fellow Democrats for trying to form a “unity ticket” as an alternative to President Biden and former-President Trump but didn’t back down from his quest.

In December, he deflected the attacks by questioning whether Biden, who turned 81 in November, could beat Trump, given voters’ concerns about his age.

“Right now, looking at the polling, it’s not No Labels that’s going to re-elect Donald Trump,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “Right now, it looks like it’s Joe Biden who’s going to re-elect Donald Trump.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who was unsuccessfully recruited by No Labels to run for president this year, said in a statement that he always had “the deepest admiration and respect” for his former colleague.

“Sen. Lieberman always put our country first by working across the aisle to enact sensible, bipartisan solutions, including the creation of the Department of Homeland Security,” he said, noting Lieberman’s role in negotiating the legislation that combined multiple federal agencies under a new department after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In an August 2002 letter to colleagues, Lieberman argued that the nation needed to consolidate “dozens of disparate federal agencies and offices responsible for homeland defense into a single department with a unified chain of command.”

Amie Parnes contributed. Updated at 7:09 p.m.

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