Feingold to call for rare presidential censure
The Senate has censured a president only once -- in 1834, when an anti-administration coalition demanded that President Andrew Jackson produce a document having to do with his veto of a bill to recharter the Bank of the United States.
The body voted 26-20 to censure Jackson when he refused to provide the document to the Senate. The censure was "expunged" from the record in 1837 by a Senate again in the hands of Jacksonian Democrats.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A top Democratic senator said Sunday he plans to introduce Monday a resolution calling for President Bush to be censured for his domestic wiretapping program.
Sen. Russ Feingold, a potential presidential candidate, told ABC's "This Week" Sunday that the resolution would not preempt discussions about changing a 1978 law governing a special court set up to approve wiretaps.
"It's an unusual step," he said. "It's a big step, but what the president did by consciously and intentionally violating the Constitution and laws of this country with this illegal wiretapping has to be answered.
"There can be debate about whether the law should be changed. There can be debate about how best to fight terrorism. We all believe that there should be wiretapping in appropriate cases -- but the idea that the president can just make up a law, in violation of his oath of office, has to be answered."
Feingold, a member of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees, said he is doubtful any Republican senators will join him in trying to reprimand the president.
Only one president, Andrew Jackson, has ever been censured.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, also speaking on ABC, said Feingold "is just wrong."
"He is flat wrong, he is dead wrong," said the Tennessee Republican -- also a potential presidential candidate in 2008 -- adding that "attacking our commander in chief ... doesn't make sense."
"We are right now at an unprecedented war where they really want to take us down," he said. "A censure resolution ... is wrong. It sends a signal around the world.
"The American people are solidly behind this president in conducting the war on terror."
Sen. John Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, noted Feingold's presidential aspirations, and criticized his move as "political grandstanding."
The Republican from Virginia noted that, since 1978, when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was passed restricting covert surveillance, technology has changed dramatically.
"Presidents must act instantaneously in the security interests of this country," he said.
Bush authorized the National Security Agency shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to eavesdrop on Americans suspected of communicating with al Qaeda members overseas -- without obtaining a warrant from the FISA court.
The administration has said the program is lawful, and although initially a number of Republicans were critical, most have moved on to "fixing the law," in Feingold's words, to erase any question of its legality.
On Tuesday, four Senate Republicans proposed a bill to provide what one called "very rigorous oversight" of the program while also giving it the force of law.
Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, all members of the Intelligence Committee, introduced the bill late Tuesday afternoon in an effort to address criticism of the program and reach a compromise.
Feingold said revising the law isn't enough.
"What I'm interested in is my colleagues acknowledging that we as a Congress have to stand up to a president who acts as if the Bill of Rights and the Constitution were repealed on September 11," he said. "We didn't enact martial law on September 11. We still have a constitutional form of government, and if the Congress of the United States does not stand up for that authority at this point, it will be an historic failure of our system of government."
Sen. Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he believes Bush's program is wrong but said he would rather wait for the investigation by the Intelligence Committee to be completed.
But Levin, of Michigan, backed Feingold's right to harsh words for Bush.
"I think criticism of the president is legitimate," he said. "I think we ought to welcome some checks and balances on the president."
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