As the only senator who voted against the USA Patriot Act in the days after Sept. 11, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wi.) has a history of being a Congressional underdog. On Monday, he reprised that role when he rightly introduced a resolution calling for the censure of President George W. Bush in response to the president’s illegal domestic spying activities.
Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, it is against the law to wiretap American citizens in the United States without a warrant or court order. The president broke this law when he authorized the National Security Agency to organize an eavesdropping program that targeted suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks. Feingold’s censure resolution appropriately rebukes President Bush for his inappropriate and illegal behavior.
Although the censure procedure is not outlined in the Constitution and is not as dramatic as a call for impeachment, it is important as a measure that would begin to hold the president responsible for his actions.
According to The Capital Times in Madison, Feingold has said, “If Congress does not censure the president, we will be tacitly condoning his actions and undermining both the separation of powers and the rule of law.” Bill Clinton was impeached because he lied about what (or who) his interns were doing, and Richard Nixon resigned because he lied about the Watergate tapes. Bush must not be let off the hook for lying about illegally spying on American citizens, even though it is unlikely that he will leave office before the end of his term.
A president has only been censured once before in the history of the United States. In 1834, a censure resolution was passed against Andrew Jackson for his refusal to surrender a document related to the withdrawal of funds from the Bank of the United States. One hundred seventy-two years later, transparency and accountability in the government remain vitally important—especially as the Bush administration’s national security policies threaten to chip away at our civil liberties.
Scared to run the risk of alienating swing voters in November’s Congressional elections, prominent Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), regrettably declined to officially endorse or support the censure resolution. The Democrats, however, did manage to block an immediate vote in which the resolution would almost definitely have failed and passed the resolution to the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing, debate and vote.
Despite the lack of support for his resolution, Feingold should be commended for his effort. Bush broke the law, and he must not be allowed to justify his actions by drawing on Americans’ fears about terrorism. He must rather be held accountable by censure.