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For Joe Lieberman, Solutions To Political Ills Don't Involve Labels

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman is co-chair of No Labels, and he's attending the Problem Solver Convention in New Hampshire. He's also a former Democratic vice presidential candidate who ended his career in the Senate as an independent. And he joins us now. And Sen. Lieberman, can you help us better understand your group's agenda? What are you going for?

JOE LIEBERMAN: Sure, Kelly. Well, this is a group that in one sense is not unlike a lot of other Americans, which is we're disappointed, we're fed up, we're angry about the gridlock in Washington. But we are different from a lot of the others in that we have a program of response. And the way we've chosen is to put forward an agenda with four big national goals broadly stated which we're asking the presidential candidates to commit to - and the goals have to do with creating 25 million new jobs in the country, security - Social Security and Medicare, balancing the budget and making America energy secure. Those are goals that arose out of polling we did around the country. They're not goals that we set. And again, they're broadly stated.

MCEVERS: I mean, you're pushing for this idea that Democrats cooperate with Republicans. But this is also a time when even within their own parties, the Democrats and Republicans are having a hard time building consensus. I mean, is this possible?

LIEBERMAN: It is possible, but it's not easy. So part of what we're trying to do is to say, OK, let's pull ourselves above all the partisan ideological nonsense and sit down and start negotiating to see what we can achieve to realize those goals. And the whole idea here is that - and you've got to be willing to compromise to achieve something. It's not a compromise of principle. But if you are demanding 100 percent of everything you want on every big legislative package in Washington, you're probably going to end up with 0 percent, which is exactly what's happened. We've been quoting President Reagan a lot, who said he'd always take a half a loaf rather than no loaf. I mean, really from Washington - for too long the country's been getting no loaf. And dare I say we're hungry.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) I mean - you do have a lot of representatives in Congress who say that their constituents are asking them to go to Washington and not compromise. You know, they're saying that that is their mandate right now.

LIEBERMAN: I think a lot of people feel that they are just not listened to, and that the politicians in Washington are just playing games with each other and forgetting about their constituents. And this demand that their representatives go to Washington and not compromise - there are some people out there who feel that. It's a larger group than I think it's ever been before.

MCEVERS: Yeah.

LIEBERMAN: But it's still a real minority. I mean, most people want their representatives to get something done.

MCEVERS: Where do you see this going? Is it about finding the right candidate for the White House, or is it really about recalibrating voters' expectations and what they want from candidates?

LIEBERMAN: Yeah, I think we and No Labels really want to create a counter pressure to the divisiveness and partisanship in our politics. Honestly, we don't know whether it's going to work. I jumped in, actively involved now because I think it's the best hope. So, you know, that's our goal. And we hope that in January or February of 2017, we have a president who comes in, and he or she had made the promise - the No Labels promise - to set up a precis to negotiate achieving one of the big goals and that Congress will be receptive 'cause members of Congress will already have signed on to what we call our National Strategic Agenda. Can we do it? I don't know. But I know there's no hope in sitting back and just letting our political system careen out of control, which it seems to be doing now because it really does hurt our country.

MCEVERS: That's Joe Lieberman, former Connecticut senator and current co-chair of the organization No Labels. Thanks and good luck, Senator.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Kelly. Be well. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.