Monday, March 13, 2006

Sen. Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, who is widely thought to be pursuing the Democratic presidential nomination for 2008, will introduce a Senate resolution today to censure President Bush for authorizing the wiretapping of telephone conversations of suspected terrorists.

In the House, Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, will ask for the formation of a committee to investigate whether the president should be impeached.

Neither effort is expected to succeed. Republicans, who hold a 55 to 44 majority in the Senate and a 31-seatmargin in House, called the attempt “grandstanding” and “crazy.”

“It’s an unusual step,” Mr. Feingold told interviewers yesterday on ABC-TV’s “This Week.” “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.

“We all believe 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.”

The Constitution authorizes Congress to impeach a president or censure its own members, but there is precedent for resolutions of presidential censure. The Senate censured President Andrew Jackson in 1834 for defying the Whig Party, and Republicans attempted, and failed, to censure President Clinton in 1998 after the House impeached him and the Senate acquitted him.

Mr. Feingold’s measure states that “the United States Senate does hereby censure George W. Bush, president of the United States, and does condemn his unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, who appeared on the ABC-TV program after Mr. Feingold, said such a resolution is “a crazy political move” that would weaken America’s strength abroad.

“We are right now at a war, in an unprecedented war, where we do have people who really want to take us down,” Mr. Frist said. “So the signal that it sends that there is in any way a lack of support for our commander in chief, who is leading us with a bold vision, in a way that we know is making our homeland safer, is wrong. And it sends a perception around the world.”

Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, a senior Republican, dismissed the Feingold resolution as “grandstanding.” Tracey Schmitt, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said “Senator Feingold’s out-of-touch attack demonstrates once again that Democrats are willing to play politics with the most important issue facing the American people.”

President Bush defended his wiretap authorization — bypassing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires judicial oversight — as permitted by the Constitution and necessary to wage effective war against terrorists.

“Just who is the enemy to the Democrats, the president of the United States or the terrorists working to destroy our way of life?” asked Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. “Their political smear tactics represent everything the Democrat Party stands for: absolutely nothing.”

Mr. Frist did not answer when an interviewer asked whether he would allow a censure measure to reach the Senate floor for a vote. “This is the first I’ve heard about it. I really am surprised about it, because Russ is just wrong. He is flat wrong. He is dead wrong.”

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