Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee may have succeeded in scuttling any investigation into the president's warrantless spying program, but Sen. Russ Feingold is ready to cut to the chase: The Democrat from Wisconsin will introduce a resolution today censuring George W. Bush for engaging in illegal surveillance and for misleading both Congress and the American people about his warrantless spying program.
Feingold says that Bush's spying program violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and that neither the president's commander-in-chief powers nor the congressional resolution authorizing the use of force after 9/11 gave Bush a way around FISA's warrant requirement. On the misleading-the-country front, Feingold points to statements by the president in 2004 and 2005 in which he suggested that his administration always seeks warrants when conducting surveillance of terrorism suspects. "Now, by the way," Bush told a rally in New York in April 2004, "any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed."
As the Associated Press notes, no president has been censured since Andrew Jackson was so honored in 1834. Feingold says it's time to do so again. "The president must be held accountable for authorizing a program that clearly violates the law and then misleading the country about its existence and its legality," he says in a statement issued by his office. "The president's actions, as well as his misleading statements to both Congress and the public about the program, demand a serious response. If Congress does not censure the president, we will be tacitly condoning his actions, and undermining both the separation of powers and the rule of law."
While Feingold's resolution may be a disappointment for progressives still hoping against hope for impeachment proceedings against Bush, it's still probably too much for the Senate to stomach. When Bill Frist first learned of the resolution Sunday, the Senate majority leader -- fresh off his victory in a Republican straw poll in Tennessee and apparently forgetting his own party's recent showdown with Bush over the Dubai Ports World deal -- all but accused Feingold of aiding and abetting America's enemies. "Here we are, the Republican Party, the leadership in the Congress, supporting the president of the United States as commander in chief, who is out there fighting al-Qaida and the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and the people who have sworn ... to destroy Western civilization and all the families listening to us," Frist said. "And they're out now attacking, at least today, through this proposed censure vote, out attacking our commander in chief. Doesn't make sense ... I was hoping deep inside that the leadership in Iran and other people who have the U.S. not in their best interest are not listening because of the terrible signal it sends."
The response from Democratic Sen. Carl Levin was less vitriolic but maybe more bizarre. Levin said that while he believes Bush was "wrong" to engage in warrantless spying, he thinks Feingold's resolution is premature. "I would rather wait until the investigation is completed, which has now been started by the intelligence committee, before I go beyond that." Sounds pretty reasonable to us -- if, in fact, the Senate Intelligence Committee had agreed to conduct a real investigation into the warrantless spying program. It has not.