Sen. Feingold Calls for Censure of President Bush

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), a potential candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, calls for a Senate resolution censuring President Bush over the issue of domestic surveillance. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist dismisses the resolution as a political stunt.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

An unusual resolution to censure President Bush was proposed today in the U.S. Senate. Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold presented the motion. He said it's a way to express the Senate's disapproval of President Bush's order for domestic surveillance without court warrant.

Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

As the only member of the Senate to oppose the original Patriot Act, Russ Feingold has long been a maverick. Today he asked his fellow senators to join him in the censure motion that was last imposed by the Senate on President Andrew Jackson a century and a half ago.

Senator RUSS FEINGOLD (Democrat, Wisconsin): When the President of the United States breaks the law, he must be held accountable. That is why today I'm introducing a resolution to censure President George W. Bush. The President authorized an illegal program to spy on American citizens on American soil, and then misled the Congress and the public about the existence and the legality of that program. It is up to this body to reaffirm the rule of law by condemning the president's actions.

WELNA: But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist dismissed Feingold's censure motion as nothing more than a political stunt.

Senator BILL FRIST: When we're talking about censuring the President of the United States at a time of war, when this president is out defending the American people with a very good lawful constitutional program, it is serious business. And if it is an issue that the other side of the aisle wants to debate or debate through the night, I guess we're willing to do that as well.

WELNA: Earlier today White House Spokesman Scott McClellan tied Feingold's move to the Wisconsin Democrat's own Presidential ambitions. The resolution McClellan told reporters has "more to do with 2008 politics than anything else."

White House Spokesman SCOTT MCCLELLAN: What we ought to be doing is working together to defeat the terrorists, not engaging in partisan politics. So the question becomes, is where do other Democrats stand? Do they agree with him and his view? I know Congressman Conyers has expresses a view about impeachment or something along those lines. Is this the view of the Democratic Party? The enemy is the terrorists and al-Qaida members, not the president.

WELNA: In fact, Feingold's Democratic Senate colleagues lately have been trying to appear tougher on national security than their Republican counterparts. Those Democrats weren't exactly leaping today to join in a censure of the President for carrying out what the White House calls terrorist surveillance. But Democratic Leader Harry Reed did have some kind words for his colleague.

Senator HARRY REED (Democrat, Nevada): I commend Senator Feingold for bringing this to the attention of the American people. We need a full and complete debate on this NSA spying.

WELNA: But another leading Senate Democrat, Connecticut's Joseph Lieberman, showed little interest in considering Feingold's censure resolution. Lieberman said he'd rather move forward and find a legal basis for the NSA surveillance.

Senator JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (Democrat, Connecticut): I've said before that I disagree with the Bush Administration's legal judgment on this one. I don't believe that they have operated within the law as it exists. But this is a critically important program to the prevention of terrorist acts her in the United States. And I don't know a person here in the Senate who was against this program. If this place was operating as it should, we'd all be figuring out how to sit down around a table and bring it within the law.

WELNA: But the Senate is clearly operating as a deeply polarized institution in a key election year. It's still not clear whether Feingold will indeed get a vote on his censure resolution. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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