Feingold Draws Little Support for Censure
WASHINGTON, Mar. 14, 2006 (AP)
(AP) Sen. Russell Feingold's effort to censure President Bush is headed for the Senate Judiciary Committee, advancing a contentious debate over whether the president deserves a formal rebuke for his secret wiretapping program.
"I look forward to a full hearing, debate and vote in committee on this important matter," Feingold, D-Wis., said in a statement. "If the committee fails to consider the resolution expeditiously, I will ask that there be a vote in the full Senate."
A possible presidential contender in 2008, Feingold said Bush broke the law and violated the Constitution when he authorized the National Security Agency to conduct a warrantless wiretapping program as part of the war on terrorism.
"Congress must respond," Feingold said Monday on the Senate floor. "A formal censure by Congress is an appropriate and responsible first step to assure the public that when the president thinks he can violate the law without consequences, Congress has the will to hold him accountable."
Feingold's introduction of the five-page censure resolution set off maneuvering among his fellow Democrats to prevent a vote that could alienate swing voters.
Republicans savored the Democrats' discomfort. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., pushed for an immediate floor vote; Democrats protested, saying they hadn't yet read the resolution. Several Democrats offered empathy for Feingold's frustration but no overt support for his resolution.
Feingold is undeterred, saying that simply debating it will keep the Bush administration and congressional Republicans from playing down the matter this midterm election year.
Several Democrats said that before any censure, they want the Senate Intelligence Committee to finish an investigation of the warrantless wiretapping program. In that program, the National Security Agency is allowed to eavesdrop on international calls and e-mails of U.S. residents when terrorism is suspected.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said Tuesday that Feingold's censure effort was "born out of intense frustration" with the administration's lack of candor on the eavesdropping program _ and not out of any effort to further his 2008 presidential ambitions.
"We have no idea what this program is," said Biden, himself a potential 2008 presidential contender, on NBC's "Today" show. He said Feingold was expressing his "absolute frustration with the failure of this administration and this Congress to insist it come forward and tell us what it's doing."
Asked at a news conference whether he would vote for the censure resolution, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., declined Monday to endorse it and said he hadn't read it.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said he had not read it either and wasn't inclined simply to scold the president.
"I'd prefer to see us solve the problem," Lieberman told reporters.
Across the Capitol, reaction was similar. Feingold's censure resolution drew empathy but no outright support from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Feingold's resolution accuses Bush of violating the Constitution and the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
It reads in part:
"Resolved that the United States Senate does hereby censure George W. Bush, president of the United States, and does condemn his unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans within the United States without obtaining the court orders required."
The resolution says censuring Bush also is warranted by "his failure to inform the full congressional intelligence committees as required by law, and his efforts to mislead the American people about the authorities relied upon by his administration to conduct wiretaps and about the legality of the program."
The only president ever censured by the Senate was Andrew Jackson, in 1834, for removing the nation's money from a private bank in defiance of the Whig-controlled Senate.