Bush Challenges Eavesdropping Detractors

President Bush is responding defiantly to a Democratic senator's call for his censure over the warrantless domestic eavesdropping program.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Bush yesterday fired back at Wisconsin Senator Russell Feingold. The Democrat has called for Mr. Bush to be censured over the warrantless domestic eavesdropping program that some consider illegal.

NPR's David Green is on the road this week, following the president and vice president. He spoke to some Ohio voters about the dispute.

DAVID GREEN reporting:

At his White House news conference yesterday, the president faced a string of questions about Iraq. But then a reporter asked about Senator Feingold's call for censure over the warrantless wiretapping program.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, if that's what they believe, if people in the party believe that, then they ought to stand up and say it. They ought to stand up and say the tools we're using to protect the American people shouldn't be used.

GREEN: And that wasn't all.

Unidentified Announcer: September 11th changed our country, and it changed how America responds to terrorists. President Bush…

GREEN: Mr. Bush's party released a new radio ad to air in Wisconsin, suggesting that lawmakers must choose between attacking Mr. Bush and safeguarding the country.

Unidentified Announcer: Now Feingold and other Democrats want to censure the president, publicly reprimanding President Bush for pursuing…some Democrats are even calling for President Bush's impeachment. Is this how Democrats plan to win the war on terror?

GREEN: In reality, Feingold has made clear he fully supports wiretapping suspected terrorists, and that he just wants it done legally. A lot of Democrats share his view, but are staying as far away from his call for censure as they can--while many Republicans have sounded more than happy to chat about the subject, even escalating the matter to impeachment.

Perhaps they remember 1998.

Former President BILL CLINTON: We must get rid of the poisonous venom of excessive partisanship, obsessive animosity, and uncontrolled anger.

GREEN: Bill Clinton vowed to fight on after his impeachment. It was a scar on his legacy. But voters also viewed the impeachment as an overreach, and Mr. Clinton's poll numbers shot up.

So what are voters thinking now? We checked in at the Westlake Recreation Center in the Cleveland suburbs. Mr. Bush addressed 20,000 people outside the facility just days before the 2004 election. Last night, the place was more quiet as people left after working out.

Mr. MIKE ORMISTON(ph): A little bit of weights, a little bit of cardio stuff.

GREEN: Mike Ormiston works for a local greeting card company. He's a registered Democrat who voted for Mr. Bush in 2000, but believes there's no justification to be in Iraq.

Mr. ORMISTON: I think the war on terror definitely needs to continue, but unfortunately, the war in Iraq is the totally the wrong way to do it. And we all know that now, unfortunately, and really all the president's doing right now is just trying to justify it.

GREEN: If he turned his focus more from Iraq to fighting terrorism more broadly, things like domestic surveillance and so forth, do you feel like you might support him more?

Mr. ORMISTON: Yes. Even though you threw in that last one, the domestic surveillance and all that. I think some of that is necessary.

GREEN: He says the wiretapping program should be monitored closely. But rebuking the president over the matter would be going overboard.

Mr. ORMISTON: If we don't continue to be proactive in that way, it is a sign of weakness.

GREEN: Kathy Surrack(ph) was leaving the Rec Center after taking her son to swimming lessons. She's a registered Republican who says its time to get American troops out of Iraq. But turn the subject to terrorism at home, and she says she's happy the president launched a wiretapping program, even one without warrants.

Ms. KATHY SURRACK: The way I feel about it, if you're not doing anything wrong, it's no big deal to me. He could tap my phone if, you know, it's not a big deal. Because I feel like if you're doing something wrong, then good, he should be tapping, you know. I would like him to catch the people that are out there doing this.

GREEN: She scoffs at any Democrats who are talking about censure or impeachment.

Ms. SURRACK: They're just going for publicity because it's an election year.

GREEN: It's an election year that is sure to be dominated by news of Iraq. But Republicans will be eager for any chance to turn some attention to the fight against terrorism at home.

David Green, NPR News, in Cleveland.

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