- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Senate Democrats refused to allow a vote yesterday on a proposal by one of their own to censure President Bush for his warrantless terrorist-surveillance program.

Sen. Russell D. Feingold accused Mr. Bush yesterday of breaking the law and lying to Congress for ordering eavesdropping within the United States without warrants. The Wisconsin Democrat introduced in the Senate an official resolution to censure Mr. Bush, which by nightfall had been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.

“This is one of the most blatant attempts in American history by a president to violate the law, to boast about the fact that he violated the law, to continue to violate the law and to mock anyone who questions it,” Mr. Feingold said. “That has to be answered. Otherwise, our system of government has changed in a very tragic way.”

Majority Leader Bill Frist dismissed the proposal as “political gamesmanship” and said that if the Senate was going to consider such a serious sanction, he wanted an immediate vote on the matter, which the Democrats would not permit.

“This is a political stunt, a political stunt that is addressed at attacking the president of the United States of America when we’re at war,” Mr. Frist said. “The president is leading us with a program that is lawful, that is constitutional, that is vital to the safety and security of the American people.”

Democrats quickly rejected voting on the censure resolution, accusing Mr. Frist of trying to ram it through before senators would have time to consider it.

“I don’t introduce a censure resolution lightly,” Mr. Feingold said later. “I’m shocked that the majority leader would show such disregard for such a serious matter by trying to hold a vote ten minutes after it was introduced.”

No Democrats yesterday publicly supported Mr. Feingold’s resolution, although several said they hoped it would spark a worthwhile debate about the National Security Agency program. At a press conference, Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada declined to endorse the resolution and said he hadn’t read it.

Mr. Frist said he still hopes to have the censure vote soon, possibly this week.

The White House said the resolution was about Mr. Feingold’s White House aspirations.

“I think it has more to do with 2008 politics than anything else,” Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said. “I think it does raise the question of how do you fight and win the war on terrorism, and if Democrats want to argue that we shouldn’t be listening to al Qaeda communications, that’s their right. And we welcome the debate.”

Mr. Feingold laughed off those charges and noted that he was the only Democrat to vote to hear the evidence in the Clinton impeachment.

“This is certainly more serious than anything President Clinton was accused of doing,” Mr. Feingold told reporters later. “It’s reminiscent of what President Nixon was not only accused of doing but was basically removed from office for doing.”

Vice President Dick Cheney, who made a fundraising stop yesterday in Mr. Feingold’s state, called the resolution an “outrageous proposition.”

“Some Democrats in Congress have decided the president is the enemy,” he said in DePere, Wis. The crowd booed at the mention of Mr. Feingold’s resolution.

Encouraging the reaction, Mr. Cheney said, “Don’t hold back.”

“The outrageous proposition that we ought to protect our enemies’ ability to communicate as it plots against America poses a key test of our Democratic leaders,” he said. “Do they support the extreme and counterproductive antics of a few or do they support a lawful program vital to the security of this nation?”

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales yesterday said the censure effort was based on the belief that Mr. Bush had acted outside the law, a position the Justice Department has disputed. He said the president had the authority as commander in chief during a time of war under the Constitution, supplemented by the authorization to use military force passed by Congress after the September 11 attacks.

“So obviously, we believe strongly the president does have the authority. We have provided a lot of information supporting our legal rationale, legal analysis to the Congress,” he said, adding that he spent eight hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee explaining the department’s position. “And so we’re very, very comfortable with our position.”

• Jerry Seper contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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