Call to Censure Bush Is Answered by a Mostly Empty Echo
- Interpretation: Our Fuhrer is delivering so many tax cuts and similar gifts to the wealthy, that Congress is not about to censure the gift giver. Fascism uber alles!
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April 1, 2006
Call to Censure Bush Is Answered by a Mostly Empty Echo
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
Doug Mills/The New York Times - John W. Dean, middle, former counsel to Richard Nixon, in his first appearance before Congress since the Watergate hearings of 1973.
Doug Mills/The New York Times - Senator Russell D. Feingold has drawn little support for his proposal to censure President Bush.
WASHINGTON, MARCH 31 — The Senate Judiciary Committee opened a bitter if lopsided debate on Friday over whether Congress should censure President Bush for his domestic eavesdropping program.
Although few Senate Democrats have embraced the censure proposal and almost no one expects the Senate to adopt it, the notion that Democrats may seek to punish Mr. Bush has become a rallying cause to partisans on both sides of the political divide. Republicans called the hearing to give the proposal a full airing as their party sought to use the threat of Democratic punishment of the president to rally their conservative base.
Five Republicans at the hearing took turns attacking the idea as a reckless stunt that could embolden terrorists. Just two Democrats showed up to defend it, arguing that Congress needed to rein in the White House's expansive view of presidential power. The Democrats' star witness was John W. Dean, the former counsel to President Richard M. Nixon who divulged many of the details in the Watergate scandal.
Senator Russell D. Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who proposed the censure motion and is considering a 2008 presidential run, argued that the Bush administration's insistence that it needed no Congressional approval for its wiretapping program implied that "we no longer have a constitutional system consisting of three co-equal branches of government; we have a monarchy."
"If we in the Congress don't stand up for ourselves and for the American people, we become complicit in the lawbreaking," Mr. Feingold said.
Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the committee and the only other Democrat to speak at the hearing, said he, too, was inclined to support censure. Only two other senators, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Barbara Boxer of California, have signed on as co-sponsors of Mr. Feingold's resolution.
Republicans argued that censure would undermine the president's efforts to fight terrorism.
"This hearing, I think, is beyond the pale," said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas.
Mr. Cornyn argued that the censure proposal could send a "perverse and false message" of presidential weakness to terrorists around the world and thus "make the jobs of our soldiers and diplomats harder and place them at greater risk."
Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, added, "Let's don't play games with their lives."
Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and chairman of the committee, insisted on a serious inquiry into the censure proposal. And Mr. Specter made no secret that he relished another chance to raise questions about the secret wiretapping program, run by the National Security Agency, noting that his committee had held four hearings on the subject.
"I thought they would attract more attention," he said.
Several Republicans argued that whatever the legal status of the spying program, it did not deserve punishment because, unlike Nixon, Mr. Bush had acted in good faith.
"This is apples and oranges," Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told Mr. Dean. "Anybody who believes that Richard Nixon was relying on some inherent-authority argument is recreating history."
Some said the sober tone of the hearing suggested that the Republican strategy of playing up the issue could backfire.
"If it is discussed in at all a reasonable way, that may add to its credibility," Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan political analyst, said. "When you have presidential approval ratings this bad, you have a public that is not predisposed to rally to the president and not predisposed to reject the criticism."
Republicans, however, continued to amplify the debate. The Republican Party sent bulletins to its supporters and to talk-radio hosts calling attention to the hearing. And it distributed an online video quoting Democrats about censure or impeachment with the caption, "Tell Democrats to stop weakening our national security."
Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster, said the back and forth was good both for Mr. Feingold, who was burnishing his credentials with Democratic loyalists, and for Republicans, whose base "is not as enthusiastic about politics right now."
Mr. Bolger added, "It is only Democrats in swing states who suffer."
Mr. Dean, testifying before Congress for the first time since he appeared as a witness in the Watergate hearings, argued that the Senate should reprimand the president not for partisan reasons but "out of institutional pride of this body, of the Congress of the United States."
Mr. Cornyn said Mr. Dean was a "convicted felon" and noted he had written a book called "Worse Than Watergate" in which he made a case for impeaching Mr. Bush.
"It strikes me as very odd," Mr. Cornyn said, "that the Judiciary Committee is giving some audience, an opportunity, to somebody under those circumstances as part of their marketing efforts."
In response, Mr. Dean said his next book would include Mr. Cornyn but would not be published until summer.
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