Censuring Bush

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.

2 Replies to “Censuring Bush”

  1. well, the Administration has been arguing he had the authority under the Constitution. It’s a legitimate argument whether that’s a proper understanding of his authority (I believe it is but….).

    In the Tuesday Post, Sen. Feingold is quoted as saying:

    “This is clearly more serious than anything President Clinton was accused of,”

    and in the article you’re commenting on, the Post notes his maverick ways by, among other things, “his opposition to dropping all charges against President Bill Clinton during impeachment proceedings”.

    Well, if he thinks President Bush has outdone President Clinton here..and he didn’t think impeachment charges against Pres. Clinton s/b dropped – then he should be calling for formal impeachment proceedings against the President. Anything less doesn’t add up.

    A cynic might say that’s because impeachment proceedings begin in the House and Senator Feingold couldn’t be in the spotlight there. And a censure resolution – well, chances of passing that are nil but chances this plays well w/the Kossites: 100%.

    a cynic would say that but not me…..because Senator Harry Reid has assured us that Senator Feingold is a principled man.

  2. I agree with you that there are legitimate arguments over what the President’s powers are in this area. In my understanding, the FISA laws specifically restrict the President from eavesdropping on American citizens inside the United States. If he ordered that to be done, it seems clear he was in violation of the law. If he believed that the law should be altered, then he should have agitated for it to be changed.

    I think that Feingold probably believes the President ought to be impeached, but he isn’t crazy–he knows the current House and Senate won’t do any such thing. So he is using the tactics at his disposal to keep the public focused on these matters. It may be politically beneficial, but I don’t think that necessarily means he doesn’t also believe it’s the right thing to do.

Comments are closed.