Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) has proposed that the Senate should censure President Bush “for approving an ‘illegal program to spy on American citizens on American soil,'” reports the Washington Post. This seems to be a no brainer to me, in that Bush clearly did violate the FISA law. All the Republican arguments defending the President attempt to retroactively justify his actions, but they never argue that they were legal given the current laws.
In any event, the Washington Post story has a few curious sections that I thought I’d point out:
GOP leaders who had been reeling from the impact of Republican political scandals, an unpopular war and Bush’s mishandling of the port-security issue sensed that Feingold overplayed his hand and denounced the censure resolution as a political stunt by an ambitious lawmaker positioning himself to run for president in 2008. Many Democrats, while sympathetic to Feingold’s maneuver, appeared to be distancing themselves from his resolution yesterday, wary of polls showing that a majority of Americans side with the president on wiretapping tactics.
This paragraph features some of those unacknowledged questions I blogged about a few days ago. The reporter here repeats the tactical decisions of both sides without engaging in any way the actual truth or plausibility of Feingold’s proposal. It is useless to report that Republicans think he “overplayed his hand,” but to ignore the question at the heart of the matter, i.e. did President Bush break the law?
Feingold, 53, says he is convinced that Bush broke the law in ordering National Security Agency wiretaps of overseas telephone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens that involved people suspected of terrorist activities without first obtaining special court approval, and that his party must take a firm stand in protest.
Once again, it is nice to know what Feingold thinks happened, but what about the facts of the case? This paraphrase is full of factual claims that could be proven or disproven, if the reporter cared to take the time. Instead, we spend time with reporting like this:
Republicans seized on Feingold’s presidential ambitions as the motivation behind his bid. Feingold “should be ashamed of this political ploy,” said Frist, who also has presidential ambitions.
Democratic views were mixed . Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) dismissed the proposed censure as “getting way down the road on this issue.” When asked on NBC’s “Today” show yesterday morning whether Feingold was “grandstanding for 2008,” Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), himself a 2008 prospect and a leading Democratic voice on foreign policy, replied: “No, I think it’s more of an intense frustration. Do any of you in the news media or any of us have any idea what the president is doing?”
These carefully balanced sentences create the impression that there is no right or wrong answer. While I suppose there might be debate in some circles over the legality of Bush’s wiretapping program, at least let’s hear about that debate, instead of wasting time and space rehashing what politicians say about Feingold’s motion. If Bush broke the law, then the censure motion is worthy, no matter the motivation or political climate. If he did not, then the censure motion should not pass. In either case, I would think that Feingold deserved praise for bringing the question to everyone’s attention.