Evading the call for censure

Looks like about all Sen. Russ ‘let’s censure President Bush’ Feingold is hearing these days from members of his own party in response to his censure call are the sounds of crickets chirping:

Democratic senators, filing in for their weekly caucus lunch yesterday, looked as if they’d seen a ghost.

“I haven’t read it,” demurred Barack Obama (Ill.).

“I just don’t have enough information,” protested Ben Nelson (Neb.). “I really can’t right now,” John Kerry (Mass.) said as he hurried past a knot of reporters — an excuse that fell apart when Kerry was forced into an awkward wait as Capitol Police stopped an aide at the magnetometer.

Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) brushed past the press pack, shaking her head and waving her hand over her shoulder. When an errant food cart blocked her entrance to the meeting room, she tried to hide from reporters behind the 4-foot-11 Barbara Mikulski (Md.).

“Ask her after lunch,” offered Clinton’s spokesman, Philippe Reines. But Clinton, with most of her colleagues, fled the lunch out a back door as if escaping a fire.

In a sense, they were. The cause of so much evasion was S. Res. 398, the resolution proposed Monday by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) calling for the censure of President Bush for his warrantless wiretapping program. At a time when Democrats had Bush on the ropes over Iraq, the budget and port security, Feingold single-handedly turned the debate back to an issue where Bush has the advantage — and drove another wedge through his party.

So nonplused were Democrats that even Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), known for his near-daily news conferences, made history by declaring, “I’m not going to comment.” Would he have a comment later? “I dunno,” the suddenly shy senator said.

Republicans were grateful for the gift. The office of Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.) put a new “daily feature” on its Web site monitoring the censure resolution: “Democrat co-sponsors of Feingold Resolution: 0.”


Senator Frist tried to call the Senate Dems’ bluff this week on this, but they’re running away from it at lightening speeds. I think what Feingold is doing here is playing to his constituency – not to mention putting out feelers to see what kind of support he’d get from the base should he decide to run for President in ’08. I don’t think he even expects to get any real measure of support in the Senate … but posturing before the cameras with the ‘bold’ idea to censure the President will no doubt play well back home – and future potential Democratic primary voters.

Feingold, Reid, and Durbin - photo courtesy of Reuters Nevertheless, it is quite amusing to see Senate Democrats backing away from this as if he were presenting them with a bowl of hot lava. The last couple of weeks have seen the Dems make inroads on the national security front (based on faulty pretenses of course) and they don’t want to be seen as unjustly attacking the President over a program (the NSA surveillance ‘scandal’) with which the American people have made clear they don’t have an issue. But this IS playing well to the base, so Feingold’s stunt is paying off.

Then again, Howard Dean played well to the base, too.

Expose the Left has video of Sen. Feingold doing a bit of evading of his own – that is, evading a debate with Sen. Arlen Specter on the issue of censuring the President. Transcript:

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Mr. President might I ask the Senator from Wisconsin to stay on the floor?

SPECTER: Mr. President

MR. PRESIDENT: Senator from Pennsylvania

SPECTER: Mr. President, well I think this subject matter is worthy of debate, but not withstanding my experience at debating, I don’t think I could debate without someone to debate with. So I tried to attract the attention of the Senator from Wisconsin before he departed the chamber. I think you got him right as he was on the way out the door, but let me ask his staffers if they would like to invite the Senator from Wisconsin to return to the floor with my having listened to his long soliloquy, if I might have the benefit of his presence so that we can deal with these issues in some substantive detail.

Others blogging about this: Captain Ed, Flopping Aces, Gina Cobb, Gary Gross at California Conservative, Joe Gandelman, Tom Maguire, Say Anything

AM Update 10:03 AM ET: Looks like this is about as close as Specter got to debating Feingold yesterday (direct link to photo) ;)

PM Update 2:16 PM ET: The Wall Street Journal nails Feingold’s – and the rest of the Congressional Democrats – real agenda:

But as a political matter, the Wisconsin Senator knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows that anti-Bush pathology runs so deep among many Democrats that they really do think they’re living in some new dictatorship. Liberal journals solemnly debate impeachment, and political-action groups have formed to promote it. One of our leading left-wing newspapers recently compared Mr. Bush to J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon, as if there were even a speck of evidence that this White House is wiretapping its political enemies.

When the fever gets this hot in supposedly mainstream forums, Mr. Feingold is right to conclude that the facts behind any censure or impeachment motion won’t really matter. All that will count is the politics, which means it will come down to a question of votes in Congress. And several leading Democrats have already raised the “impeachment” card.

California Senator Barbara Boxer loudly wrote four legal scholars late last year asking if the NSA wiretaps were impeachable. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, has introduced a resolution calling for the creation of a “select committee to investigate the administration’s intent to go to war before congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and countenancing torture, retaliating against critics, and to make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment.”

In other words, everything that Mr. Bush has been accused of during the last five years, no matter how Orwellian or thoroughly refuted, will be trotted out again and used as impeachment fodder. And lest you think this could never happen, Judiciary is the House committee through which any formal impeachment resolution would be introduced and proceed. As the country heads toward 2008 and a Democratic nomination fight, John Kerry and Hillary Rodham Clinton would be hard-pressed to avoid going along with Mr. Feingold, Al Gore, and others feeding the bile of the censure/impeach brigades.
Which brings us back to Mr. Feingold’s public service in floating his “censure” gambit now. He’s doing voters a favor by telling them before November’s election just how Democrats intend to treat a wartime President if they take power.

Not only do they want to block his policies, they also plan to rebuke and embarrass him in front of the world and America’s enemies. And they want to do so not because there is a smidgen of evidence that he’s abused his office or lied under oath, but because they think he’s been too energetic in using his powers to defend America. By all means, let’s have this impeachment debate before the election, so voters can know what’s really at stake.

Read the whole thing.

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