Most Tuesdays, he and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., host a private discussion about key issues with members from both parties, sometimes as many as 40.

But critics question how Lieberman in today's climate -- and perhaps beyond -- can be seen as more than a war hawk. The war evokes passions like perhaps no other since Watergate in the early 1970s -- and Lieberman has been more a stick of dynamite than a balm.

``He can't lead on anything. Instead of being in the center, he's on the far right on the war and a liberal on domestic stuff,'' said Robert L. Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, a progressive group. ``He's a Democrat who's deranged on Iraq.''

Lieberman argues otherwise, pointing to how he and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., worked together recently to craft an amendment condemning Iran's incursions into Iraq.

He said he has tried to get people together. During the Senate's recent marathon, he told colleagues he wanted to ``stop the passions, the political passions of a moment from sweeping across Congress.''

No one seemed to listen, not to a man who for weeks had been urging them to consider a military option against Iran, who stood at that press conference hours earlier surrounded by top Republicans and a hundred journalists, saying, ``We don't really think this debate ought to be happening on this bill'' or how the ``political war'' in this country ``very often has no resemblance to the reality of what's happening over there.''

Lieberman said he does not rule out urging a change in strategy, but he owes the new U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, a chance to show progress with the troop surge.

``I think institutionally we made a promise to Gen. Petraeus -- and I personally made a promise -- not to act until we see his report in September.''

Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker plan to give a progress report to Congress then.

``I hope sometime next year the troops added as part of the surge will come home,'' he said. ``But who knows where we're going to be in March or April?''

Or next fall. Liberals crave the approach of the 2008 election -- and the prospect of picking up more Democratic seats in the Senate. They say Lieberman will be seen differently by Democrats once he no longer is the 51st vote.

``Of course, Lieberman is no longer a Democrat,'' said Armando Llorens, who blogs at Talk Left as Big Tent Democrat. ``Because his vote is needed for caucusing purposes, obviously Harry Reid has to hold his tongue on Joe. We do not. But if Dems win Senate seats in 2008, Lieberman's position will be quite precarious, it seems to me.''