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"[The] president needs to be reminded that separation of powers does not mean an isolation of powers," former White House counsel John Dean told the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday. "He needs to be told he cannot simply ignore a law with no consequences."
Arguing in favor of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold's motion to censure President Bush for illegally authorizing the warrantless wiretapping of the phone conversations of Americans, the man who broke with former President Richard Nixon to challenge the abuses of the Watergate era told the committee that Bush's wrongs were in many senses worse than those of Nixon.
"I recall a morning – and it was just about this time in the morning and it was exactly this time of the year – March 21, 1973 – that I tried to warn a president of the consequences of staying his course. I failed to convince President Nixon that morning, and the rest, as they say, is history," Dean, who famously told Nixon that there was "a cancer growing" on his presidency, explained in testimony submitted to the committee. "I certainly do not claim to be prescient. Then or now. But actions have consequences, and to ignore them is merely denial. Today, it is very obvious that history is repeating itself. It is for that reason I have crossed the country to visit with you, and that I hope that the collective wisdom of this committee will prevail, and you will not place the president above the law by inaction. As I was gathering my thoughts yesterday to respond to the hasty invitation, it occurred to me that had the Senate or House, or both, censured or somehow warned Richard Nixon, the tragedy of Watergate might have been prevented. Hopefully the Senate will not sit by while even more serious abuses unfold before it."
Republicans on the committee attempted to dismiss Feingold's motion as a partisan gesture, rather than a necessary reassertion of the system of checks and balances that has so decayed since Congress ceded its oversight role in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch was particularly aggressive in echoing Republican National Committee talking points, denouncing Feingold's motion as nothing more than an attempt to "score political points."
But Dean rejected that claim, as did Bruce Fein, a lawyer who served in Ronald Reagan's Justice Department and who joined Dean in testifying in favor of the censure motion.
"To me, this is not really and should not be a partisan question,'' said Dean, who served as chief counsel for the Republican minority on the House Judiciary Committee before joining the Nixon White House. "I think it's a question of institutional pride of this body, of the Congress of the United States.''
Feingold went even further, suggesting that Congress has a duty to hold president's to account for authorizing a secretive domestic spying program that operates without legal authorization, in clear violation the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
"If we in the Congress don't stand up for ourselves and the American people, we become complicit in the lawbreaking,'' Feingold said. ``The resolution of censure is the appropriate response.''
Predictably, Hatch and several of the more aggressive defenders of the Bush administration on the committee fell back on the "talking points" argument that it would be inappropriate to censure Bush while the country is at war in Iraq. "Wartime is not a time to weaken the commander-in-chief,'' growled the Utah Republican.
But Feingold rejected the suggestion that Congress should surrender its oversight responsibilities in wartime.
"Under this theory, we no longer have a constitutional system consisting of three co-equal branches of government, we have a monarchy," explained the senator, who added that, "We can fight terrorism without breaking the law. The rule of law is central to who we are as a people, and the President must return to the law. He must acknowledge and be held accountable for his illegal actions and for misleading the American people, both before and after the program was revealed."
Congressional Democrats have pretty much abandoned their Constitutionally-mandated responsibility to check and balance the excesses to the executive branch – so much so that the one Democrat who seeks to hold President Bush to account for ordering the warrantless wiretapping of American's telephone conversations accuses for party's leaders of "cowering."
So where is Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold finding support?
Among Republicans. Or, more precisely, among prominent alumni of past Republican administrations.
When the Senate Judiciary Committee convenes as extraordinary session on Friday to consider the Feingold's motion to censure the president for ordering federal agencies to engage in eavesdropping in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act's requirement that judicial approval be obtained for wiretaps of Americans in the United States, the dissenting senator will call two witnesses.
Making arguments about the extreme seriousness of the warrantless wiretapping issue -- and the need for a Congressional response -- will be noted constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein, who served in President Ronald Reagan's Department of Justice as Deputy Attorney General, and author and legal commentator John Dean, who served at Richard Nixon's White House counsel before breaking with the president to reveal the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Watergate era.
Fein has testified before Congress a number of times since leaving the Reagan White House, most recently at a February 28, 2006, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on President Bush's eavesdropping initiatives.
Dean's testimony will be somewhat more historic in nature. According to the Senate Library, the man who before joining the Nixon administration served as Chief Minority Counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, has not testified before Congress since 1974, the year that his former boss resigned in order to avoid impeachment.
For Feingold's Senate colleagues – defensive Republicans and cautious Democrats alike --- the testimony of Fein and Dean may come as a shock to the system. These veterans of Republican administrations past offer little quarter when it comes to the presidential wrongdoing of the moment.
Fein has argued, with regard to this president's penchant for illegal spying schemes, that: "On its face, if President Bush is totally unapologetic and says I continue to maintain that as a war-time President I can do anything I want – I don't need to consult any other branches' – that is an impeachable offense. It's more dangerous than Clinton's lying under oath because it jeopardizes our democratic dispensation and civil liberties for the ages. It would set a precedent that … would lie around like a loaded gun, able to be used indefinitely for any future occupant."
Dean has echoed those concerns, explaining that: "There can be no serious question that warrantless wiretapping, in violation of the law, is impeachable. After all, Nixon was charged in Article II of his bill of impeachment with illegal wiretapping for what he, too, claimed were national security reasons."
Dean does make a distinction between the misdeeds of the Nixon and Bush administration, however. He has argued for some time that the current administration's reckless disregard for the Constitution and the rule of law is "worse than Watergate."
After Karen Hughes stepped down as a counselor to the president in 2002, White House chief of staff Andy Card, in a rare moment of candor, told Esquire: "She's leaving when the president has one of the highest approval ratings on record. From here, it can only go down. And when it does, you know who they're going to blame."
Then, Card tapped his chest and added, "They're gonna blame Andy Card!"
As it happens, Card was wrong.
No one blamed him. Few even remembered that he was, technically, in charge of managing the Bush White House.
Card will forever be remembered for one thing: Wandering into camera range and then whispering into the ear of President Bush that terrorists had attacked the United States -- and for not, apparently, imparting the information with sufficient force to get the most powerful man in the world to respond with anything more than a quizzical look for the seven agonizing minutes portrayed in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9-11.
As Bill Maher has suggested: "Watergate was outrageous but it still did not carry the possibility of utter devastation, like a President's freezing at the very moment we needed his immediate focus on an attack on the United States."
Well, Card was the senior aide, who had been placed at the president's side by none other than Father-in-Chief George Herbert Walker Bush, in order to make sure that George II did not freeze at moments such as this. And he failed, miserably. Not only did Bush fail to respond to the whispered news that "America's under attack" for the seven minutes seen on screen, he then spent another twenty minutes posing for "photo-op" pictures afterward.
Bush has taken his share of criticism for fumbling the moment, and then for flying off around the country on a wild goose chase that took him to air bases further and further from where Dick Cheney was actually running things. But Card, as the man the Bush family had positioned to assure that the president didn't fall apart in just these circumstances, was the real fumbler. He did not get the president refocused, he did not rise to the challenge.
As a result, the president was not the president that day. Nora Ephron summed things up well when she wrote last year that, "[If] you remember September 11, 2001 -- and I'm sure you do -- the President had no idea what to do, but the Vice President did. The Vice President took over. He didn't even consult with the President. He put the President on Air Force One and the President spent the day flying from one airport to another, which was something that even the President eventually understood made him look as if he wasn't in charge."
"Cheney was the dominant figure on September 11," observed James Mann, the brilliant analyst of U.S. foreign policy and policy makers who serves as senior writer-in-residence at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Even wire service reports noted that dominance, with United Press International suggesting that it "reintroduced nagging questions about who was realy in charge in the Bush White House." Those questions grew louder after Cheney delivered a minute-by-minute account of the actions he took to secure the nation during an appearance the Sunday after the attacks on NBC's Meet the Press.
Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley summed up the point of that appearance in an interview with UPI: "It was Cheney telling the world, 'Don't worry about Shrub, I know what's going on.' "
The question that history will ask with regard to Card -- the only question -- is this: As the senior aide at Bush's side on the most significant day in recent American history, did he fail to get the president to focus on the crisis at hand? Or did he do what he was supposed to do: Get a weak and unprepared president out of the way so that the real boss could take charge?
That's a question for historians to ponder.
In the end, however, no one will spend too much time on Andy Card's role. He won't be blamed, as he once feared, for the decline in Bush's fortunes. His will be, by and large, the forgotten service of a man who managed a White House where powerful players -- Cheney, Donald Rumseld, Karl Rove -- constructed a presidency of their own design, while the elected commander-in-chief vacationed and exercised and generally ambled through history.
The truth is that Andy Card may well have failed not just his president but his country by allowing power and responsibility to drift so far from the hands of the elected president. But such failures are the stuff of footnotes and sidebars, not of the main storyline. Indeed, if Card is remembered at all by the great mass of Americans, it will be for that bit role in a Michael Moore film.
Here's an interesting issue for the "liberal media" to ponder:
In January, 2004, when the Des Moines Register made an unexpected endorsement of John Edwards as the best presidential pick for participants in Iowa's Democratic Caucuses, it was national news. The Register, an extremely influential newspaper because of its wide circulation in a relatively small state, shook up the Democratic dance card. The Register's editors found themselves being interviewed on national television and radio programs, as political writers for daily newspapers across the country stumbled over themselves to assess the significance of this particularly influential newspaper's endorsement of a still relatively unknown senator. As it turned out, the attention to the endorsement was merited, as Edwards himself acknowledged that his strong second place finish in the caucuses owed much to the boost he got from one of Middle America's most historically powerful and respected publications.
So what would happen if the same newspaper were to come out this year with a strong editorial calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq? And what if that editorial represented a reversal of the newspaper's previous "stay-the-course position?
Would that be news? Would national media outlets that are supposedly trying to ascertain the changing sentiments of the nation with regard to the war, and that are already busy charting the 2008 presidential competition in Iowa, take notice of an important development in a bellweather state? Might it be considered significant that a large daily newspaper with a national reputation has joined what Editor & Publisher magazine's Greg Mitchell -- who has for two years been noting the lack of serious discussion about ending the war on the nation's editorial pages -- refers to as "the very thin ranks of those proposing an exit strategy"?
The answer, lamentably, is "no."
We know because the Register did endorse a withdrawal timetable in a major editorial published Sunday, March 19, in which the newspaper's editors argued: "The old notion of an open-ended commitment to 'stay the course' no longer makes sense. The nature of the conflict has changed. So must American strategy. A date certain to end the U.S. occupation should be the linchpin of that strategy -- not to abandon Iraq but to put its feuding factions on notice that the United States isn't going to hang around to baby-sit their civil war."
Yet, with the better part of a week gone by, the Register's wise words have barely been noted outside Iowa -- not even by the political reporters who keep every farmer in the state on speed dial in anticipation of the next round of presidential caucuses. (Google "Iowa presidential caucuses" and "200*" and you'll find several hundred articles just from the past few weeks.)
The point here is not to suggest that one Iowa newspaper's shift in stance on the war should dominate the national news. The point is to ask: Why no attention at all?
Why has the same mass media that provides 27/7 coverage of President Bush's latest repetitions of worn arguments for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq displayed no significant interest in the fact that the Register had broken ranks with the lockstep of major American dailies on what is supposed to be a volatile and divisive issue?
Here's one answer: Perhaps, despite all the whining from the White House and its many broadcast, print and digital echo chambers about how the "mainstream media" is too tough on the President and his war, most major news outlets that have taken positions tend to be skeptical but still officially supportive adherents of the president's approach -- as opposed to advocates for the sort of withdrawal timetable that has been advanced by Representative John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, and that polls suggest the majority of Americans favor. (A recent Gallup Poll found that 54 percent of those surveyed favor withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq within a year.)
By endorsing a withdrawal timetable, the Des Moines Register -- the largest-circulation newspaper in one of the most closely watched political environments in the country -- distinguished itself from the vast majority of American daily publications. It also gave voice to popular sentiments that are still too rarely voiced in the major media of the land.
It should have been news. That it was not is one more indictment of the television networks and vast majority of major newspapers of a country where the discourse is far too narrow, and where the term "liberal media" is not merely inaccurate but comic.
Here is the Des Moines Register editorial, "Timetable to Leave Iraq," which appeared March 19, 2006:
The time has come for President Bush to do what he has resolutely insisted he would never do: Set a timetable to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
The old notion of an open-ended commitment to "stay the course" no longer makes sense. The nature of the conflict has changed. So must American strategy.
A date certain to end the U.S. occupation should be the linchpin of that strategy -- not to abandon Iraq but to put its feuding factions on notice that the United States isn't going to hang around to baby-sit their civil war.
What was originally thought to be a conflict involving a few insurgents trying to drive out American forces has morphed into something else. The insurgency is no longer about the American occupation. Iraqis are slaughtering Iraqis in a vicious cycle of suicide-bomb atrocities and revenge assassinations.
It¹s a harsh thing to say, but if Sunni and Shiite Iraqis insist on killing one another, let it be without American troops standing in the crossfire.
The United States has no vital interest in taking sides. It does, along with the rest of the world, have an interest in having a peaceful Iraq, but it is increasingly apparent that imposing harmony in a land of centuries-old tribal, religious and ethnic blood feuds is beyond the capacity of 130,000 U.S. troops, no matter how superb their performance and how great their courage.
The U.S. invasion produced chaos and unleashed ancient hatreds, as experts on the Middle East warned it would. President Bush chose not to listen, preferring to believe his own fairy-tale vision of happy Iraqis welcoming Americans. Now, in the words of the nursery rhyme, all the king¹s horses and all the king's men can't put Iraq back together again.
Only the Iraqis themselves can halt the madness.
The last hope for averting all-out civil war and the possible breakup of Iraq is if a national unity government can be established, but members of the ethnically divided parliament have been unable to form such a government. An announcement by the United States that our troops will pull out might help focus the minds of the Baghdad politicians. It would force them to stare into the abyss of a full-blown ethnic civil war with no American troops around to keep the country in one piece.
Once they're on notice of an American departure, Iraqi elected leaders and insurgents alike will have a powerful incentive to reach an accommodation.
Withdrawing U.S. troops does not mean abandoning the region. American diplomats should continue encouraging the formation of a unity government during a phased withdrawal, and the United States should remain obligated to help rebuild the country if order returns. Regardless of what happens, American air power should guarantee the security and autonomy of the Kurds in northern Iraq, who have achieved relative stability in their region and have been staunch friends.
The United States should maintain forces nearby and stand ready to confront any terrorist regime that might emerge in some part of Iraq. The international force must be maintained in Afghanistan, too, to prevent the return of the Taliban and keep up the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
But the military occupation of Iraq has achieved all it can. It's time to redeploy the troops, keeping in mind that the original mission has long since been achieved. No weapons of mass destruction in Iraq threaten America, and a dictator has been deposed. A democratically elected parliament is in place.
Whatever happens from here must be left up to the Iraqis themselves.
Tossed a softball question during Tuesday morning's press conference about whether he should be censured for ordering warrantless wiretapping of phone conversations "during a time of war," President Bush fell back on the lie that Americans must surrender liberties -- and the rule of law, itself -- in order to be made safe from terrorism.
The question, a virtually verbatim repeat of talking points circulated by the Republican National Committee, was about as generous a set-up as a president has ever gotten in a press conference.
"Thank you, sir," began Carl Cameron, who serves as Fox News' always-on-bended-knee chief correspondent in the court of King George. "On the subject of the terrorist surveillance program -- not to change the tone from all this emphasis on bipartisanship -- but there have been now three sponsors to a measure to censure you for the implementation of that program. The primary sponsor, Russ Feingold, has suggested that impeachment is not out of the question. And on Sunday, the number two Democrat in the Senate refused to rule that out pending an investigation. What, sir, do you think the impact of the discussion of impeachment and censure does to you and this office, and to the nation during a time of war, and in the context of the election?"
Bush was, needless to say, ready for the Cameron's inquiry.Grabbing hold of the "time-of-war" reference as the lifesaver it was intended to be, the president said, "I think during these difficult times -- and they are difficult when we're at war -- the American people expect there to be a honest and open debate without needless partisanship. And that's how I view it. I did notice that nobody from the Democrat Party has actually stood up and called for getting rid of the terrorist surveillance program. You know, if that's what they believe, if people in the party believe that, then they ought to stand up and say it. They ought to stand up and say the tools we're using to protect the American people shouldn't be used. They ought to take their message to the people and say, vote for me, I promise we're not going to have a terrorist surveillance program. That's what they ought to be doing. That's part of what is an open and honest debate. "
Of course, no prominent Democrat has ever suggested publicly or -- to the extent that reporting has revealed -- privately that it would be wise to do away with surveillance programs that are designed to thwart terrorism. What Democrats and Republicans have suggested is that the president ought to obey the law when ordering federal agencies to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens.
As Feingold, the Democratic senator from Wisconsin who raised the issue of censure last week, noted on Monday: "At his press conference today, the President once again failed to tell the American people why he decided to break the law by authorizing a program to spy on Americans on American soil without court orders. Instead of offering any defense of the program's legality, the President shamelessly played partisan politics by implying that Democrats don't want to wiretap terrorists. That is flat-out wrong, and the President knows it. Of course we should wiretap suspected terrorists, and under current law, we can. The question is why the President believes he needs to break the law to do so."
If Bush had acknowledged the legitimate bipartisan concerns about his spying program, and if he had pledged to obey the law in the future, it is doubtful that the issue of censure would ever have arisen.Bush knows this. Yet, despite his pronouncements Monday, he is doing everything he can to prevent an "open and honest debate" by murking things up with false charges and claims regarding his critics.
The prepped president used Cameron's question as a jumping off point for an even more surreal assault on the truth when he attempted to confuse Americans with regard to the recent Patriot Act debate.
"I did notice that, at one point in time, they didn't think the Patriot Act ought to be reauthorized -- 'they' being at least the Minority Leader in the Senate. He openly said, as I understand -- I don't want to misquote him -- something along the lines that, 'We killed the Patriot Act,'" said Bush. "And if that's what the party believes, they ought to go around the country saying we shouldn't give the people on the front line of protecting us the tools necessary to do so. That's a debate I think the country ought to have."
What the president conveniently failed to mention is that the Senate Minority Leader, Nevada's Harry Reid, voted with the vast majority of Senate Democrats this month to reauthorize the Patriot Act in the form favored by the administration.
While Reid and a number of Republican senators had earlier expressed support for efforts to temper some of the Patriot Act's most clearly unconstitutional components, they fell in line with the president when the votes were counted.
To their credit, a bipartisan coalition of House and Senate members refused to do back the Patriot Act in that final version, not because they want to take away the tools that fight terrorism but because they believe, as did Benjamin Franklin, that: "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
What Bush, in a call for "open and honest debate" that was really a carefully choreographed attempt to create a false divide between supposedly tough-on-terror Republicans and supposedly soft-on-terror Democrats, is the fact that some of the most conservative Republicans in Congress -- including California Representative Dana Dohrabacher, the chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee, and Alaska Representative Don Young, the 3rd ranking Republican in the House who serves as a key member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security -- sided with Feingold in opposing reauthorization of the Patriot Act in the form promoted by the Bush White House.
Arguing that "there are enough laws already enacted on our books today that we don't need to create further laws that infringe upon the constitutional rights of every Alaskan," Young said in announcing his opposition to the Patriot Act that, "I still feel this legislation was never fully thought out. We rushed to put together legislation that we thought would safeguard us from another terrorist attack. In the process we have created a bill that I feel takes away our constitutional freedom. Over four years have past and there have only been a few essential elements added to this bill. However, overall this is still a bad piece of legislation."
Those are the words of a prominent member of the president's own party. If George Bush was genuinely interested in "open and honest" debate," he would acknowledge that the issue is not whether Republicans or Democrats want to fight terrorism. The issue is whether it is necessary to disregard the Constitution in that fight. If Bush believes that his is the appropriate course then, to paraphrase the president himself, he ought to take that message to the people and say, "I promise that I won't be bothered by the Bill of Rights."
That, not his attempts to create a false discourse, would make George Bush a part of the "open and honest debate" he so disingenuously claims to desire.
With the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq approaching, Congress rejected reality once more and provided another infusion of funding to continue the open-ended occupation of that increasing disordered and volatile land. Nothing, not even the Bush administration's deception and intransigence, has done so much to continue the quagmire as the failure of Congress to check and balance the madness of President George.
Even as Iraq has become the "Bloody Kansas" of the Middle East, with a horrific explosion of sectarian violence that even some of the administration's most ardent apologists admit could well be a precursor to civil war, Congress remains the rubberstamp that it has always been – a fact confirmed Thursday by the lopsided House vote to meet another of the president's demands for more money to pay for his military misadventure.
By a vote of 348-71, the House approved a $91.9 billion supplemental spending bill, with the lion's share of the new funding earmarked for Iraq. Three years into a war that 60 percent of Americans now tell pollsters has not been worth the cost in lives and dollars that it has extracted from the United States, overwhelming majorities of both the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the House backed a measure that demands no real accountability of the administration – and that perpetuates a war that, according to a new Gallup Poll, 58 percent of Americans believe has had a generally negative effect on life in the United States generally.
The new money for the Iraq occupation comes on top of the $50 billion in supplemental war funding that the Congress had already approved for the current fiscal year, after spending $100 billion last year. And the administration says it will be back soon seeking another $50 billion for the coming fiscal year. All of this spending is in addition to the record $439.3 billion defense budget the president submitted to Congress.
This additional spending will push the federal budget deficit to a record $423 billion in fiscal year 2006, up more than $100 billion over the past year. That fact, along with concerns about the attachment of $19 billion for Hurricane Katrina relief to what started as a military supplemental, led roughly a dozen Republican fiscal hawks to oppose the measure – including Judiciary Committee chair James Sensenbrenner and Budget Committee stalwart Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. It was also opposed by several Republicans who have rejected past war supplementals, such as Texan Ron Paul and Wisconsin's Tom Petri.
But the bulk of the opposition votes came from 52 Democrats, most of them members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who believe as Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich said before the vote: "After three years arrogance and incompetence, contempt and lies, death and destruction, Congress should say enough is enough and provide not one more dime for this Administration's ill-conceived, ill-advised, misguided and failed Iraq policy. Iraq has held three elections and is now a sovereign nation. Meanwhile, our troops are caught in the middle of a civil war that our own generals say cannot be won by military force. To funnel more money into this failed misadventure would serve only to throw good money after bad. Congress should not serve as a rubber stamp of this Administration's failed policies. Congress should reject this Supplemental request, along with the Administration's failed policy in Iraq, and work to bring all our troops home."
Missing from the list of those calling the administration to account were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California; House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland; and, of course, the militantly pro-war chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Illinoisan Rahm Emanuel.
Most voters won't have a chance to send a signal to Emanuel anytime soon. But, in Illinois's 6th Congressional District, Democratic primary voters will have a chance to choose on Tuesday between the DCCC chair's handpicked candidate, Tammy Duckworth, who does not live in the district, and grassroots Democrat Christine Cegelis, who lives in the district and who stunned analysts by winning almost 45 percent of the vote as the Democratic nominee in 2004.
Duckworth, an Iraq veteran, has a compelling personal story, but she has refused to endorse a clear timetable for bringing the troops home. Cegalis supports a timetable, saying, "I have opposed this war from the start. But revisiting what brought us to this disastrous point does not solve the problem. It is time for us to bring our troops home." Cegalis explains that: "The failures of this war must prevent the United States from making similar mistakes in the future. And the only way we can make sure that lesson is learned is to elect leaders who understand that lesson."
After Thursday night's vote in the House, it is more evident than ever that the inability to understand that lesson is not merely a Republican infirmity. And it is equally evident that the appropriate response to the crisis will require voters, not just in Illinois but nationwide, to follow their own good judgment – as opposed to the dictates of Democratic "leaders" in Washington.
That's the message of the new group Vote for Peace, which is asking voters to take a pledge before they go to the polls: "I will not vote for or support any candidate for Congress or President who does not make a speedy end to the war in Iraq, and preventing any future war of aggression, a public position in his or her campaign."
Visit the Vote for Peace website at www.votersforpeace.us and learn more about this nonpartisan anti-war campaign.
The Republican National Committee has made a remarkable discovery. U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who has long been thought to be an outsider in the Senate Democratic Caucus, is not a maverick at all.
It turns out that Feingold is a "Democratic leader" who, according to RNC researchers, is pretty much setting the party's agenda.
In one of a series of talking-points memos distributed from the Republican headquarters in Washington since Feingold proposed on Monday that the president should be censured, the senator's photo appears next to a bold headline that declares: "THE DEBATE IS OVER: DEMS FIND THEIR AGENDA." A subhead reads: "Dem Leaders 'Ecstatically' Embrace Sen. Feingold's Plan To Weaken The Tools To Fight The War On Terror."
Apart from the fact that the underlying premise of the memo is inaccurate - there's no Democratic plan to weaken the tools to fight the war on terror, which has already been effectively undermined by the misguided invasion and occupation of Iraq and determination of the White House to treat "homeland security" as a slogan rather than an imperative - the RNC's announcement makes what, even in these hyperbolic times, is a remarkable claim.
Not only has Feingold proposed censuring President Bush for authorizing illegal eavesdropping on the telephone conversations of American citizens but, according to the Republican memorandums, this is now the "agenda" of the Democratic Party.
In a breathless headline, the RNC announces: "Dem Leaders (Are) Embracing (Feingold's) Plan To Censure President For Intercepting Foreign Terrorists Before They Hit Us Again."
It would probably be a bit picayune to note that Feingold does not want to stop intercepting foreign terrorists. He just wants the president to follow the law when listening in on phone calls placed by American citizens on American soil.
But what's really intriguing about the "news" that Democratic leaders have gotten on board for the Feingold plan is the fact that, well, they haven't done so. Indeed, there is little evidence that Washington Democrats are in any more of a fighting mood this year than they were in 2002 or 2004.
Only two senators, Iowa's Tom Harkin and California's Barbara Boxer, have expressed clear support for Feingold's censure proposal.
The statements of support from Harkin and Boxer quoted in the RNC memos, which have been widely circulated to reporters, pundits and politicos in Washington and beyond. But so too are statements from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry that are portrayed as endorsements even though Reid, Durbin and Kerry have only said that Feingold is a "man of principle" and that the censure motion is "interesting" as a "catalyst" for debate.
Feingold read those comments as a tepid response from Democratic leaders and said so. "I'm amazed at Democrats ... cowering with this president's numbers so low," he told reporters. "The administration ... just has to raise the specter of the war on terror, and Democrats run and hide."
MoveOn.org, similarly concerned, launched an online campaign to get Democratic senators to back the censure motion. The campaign proved so popular, gaining more than 200,000 signatures on pro-censure petitions in a day, that MoveOn upped its goal from 250,000 signatures to 350,000 signatures. But MoveOn still expresses concern: "Right now it's unclear how many of Senator Feingold's colleagues will stand with him in this important fight."
The online activists must not have gotten the memo from the RNC.
Of course, the MoveOn folks are a cynical bunch. They may think that these RNC memos suggest a "they-doth-protest-too-much" scenario in which the Republicans are trying to "spin" the censure debate in a manner that causes the actual if spineless leaders of the Democratic Party to distance themselves from the one member of the Senate Democratic Caucus who has decided to raise fundamental questions about the illegal actions of the administration.
Really cynical folks might even conclude that -- with polling showing Americans do want the president and his administration held to account -- the Republicans have an ulterior motive. By scaring Democratic leaders off and forcing the censure issue back into the closet before, the White House political team can again spin away a serious threat to the president -- much like the threat that Karl Rove admitted he feared could have emerged in the 2004 presidential election if, instead of Kerry, Democrats had nominated a presidential candidate who aggressively challenged administration's Iraq policies.
But the Republicans need not worry. As long as most congressional Democrats continue to "cower," the wedge that divides those "leaders" from the party's base voters, as well as the many Republicans and independents who worry about warrantless wiretapping, will remain firmly in place. And prospects for the fundamental political debate about this administration's misdeeds remain almost as slim as in the 2002 and 2004 election cycles.
Bill Clinton certainly had his flaws as a President. He was a militant free trader, who used all of his political skills to win support for the North American Free Trade Agreement, permanent normalization of trade policy with China and a host of other initiatives that slowly but surely kicked the legs out from under American workers, communities and industries. His welfare, education and telecommunications reforms were bumbling at best, and more often malignant. He showed only slightly more respect for the Constitution than the current president, and his military misadventures and meddling in the affairs of other countries suggest that he had no respect at all for George Washington's warning about avoiding "foreign entanglements."
But Clinton's presidency saw significant progress on some fronts, including the signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, a tax increase that reversed the growth in federal deficits that had ballooned during the spending-spree presidency of Ronald Reagan, the nation's last minimum-wage increase and a period of economic growth that lasted long enough to actually begin to modestly improve the circumstance of the country's poor. The relative health of the economy during the second term of his presidency surely contributed to the 65 percent approval rating that Clinton took with him when he left the White House, which represented the highest end-of-term enthusiasm level for any President in the post-Eisenhower era.
Clinton remains a beloved figure in many circles, and that surely accounts for the substantial continuing interest in the former president and his life – and interest that has created something of a tourist boom for tiny Hope, Arkansas, the community where the 42nd president grew up.
Last week, the U.S. House voted on a perfunctory measure authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to designate the President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home in Hope, Arkansas, as a National Historic Site and unit of the National Park System. It is notable that, at a time when Republicans are banging away on critics of the Bush administration for not respecting the office of the presidency, the vote was not the unanimous show of approval that might have been expected.
Republican members of the House forced a roll-call vote -- extremely rare on such matters -- and a dozen of them then voted against so honoring Clinton's birthplace.
The "no" votes came from Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn, Florida's Ginny Brown-Waite, Utah's Chris Cannon, California's John Doolittle, Virginia's Virgil Goode, Oklahoma's Ernest Istook, Texan Ron Paul, Pennsylvania's Bill Shuster, Georgia's Lynn Westmoreland and North Carolinians Virginia Foxx, Walter Jones and Patrick McHenry.
Ron Paul gets a pass. The former Libertarian Party presidential candidate is against just about everything the government does.
Give Walter Jones a pass, as well. He's a principled critic of the free-trade policies of both the Clinton and Bush administrations, who says, "If it had been a historic site for George W. Bush, I would have voted against it. I've seen this country outsource jobs and outsource security. I can't even get money for people of my district."
But what about the rest of these "no" voters? Were they just so offended by Clinton's personal transgressions that they could not bring themselves to help a little town in southwest Arkansas stir up some tourism?
Istook's spokesman said the congressman "has never been a big fan of Bill Clinton" – which was, at least, honest. But many of the other members suggested that they had ethical problems with Clinton.
"There are a lot of things to be concerned about, but designating this as a historic site is a joke," growled McHenry, who said of Clinton: "history has not made a final judgment on his presidency," and then added as an aside: "Maybe it should be a landmark. He is only the second president to be impeached."
Brown-Waite, who forced the roll-call vote on the designation, grumbled that: "(Clinton) has some explaining to do."
Frankly, this is an interesting crew to set itself up as the defenders of political virtue and elective ethics.
Indeed, we could be looking at something of a "people-who-live-in-glass-houses" scenario here, considering the fact that:
• Doolittle's name has been more closely associated with that of Jack Abramoff, the GOP "super lobbyist" who pleaded guilty to three felony corruption charges in January, than any member of the House except DeLay and Ohio Republican Bob Ney, accepted more than $100,000 in contributions from the lobbyist and his clients. Doolittle wrote letters and contacted federal agencies on behalf of those clients. The congressman has, as well, been linked to San Diego businessman Brent Wilkes, who has been implicated in the November bribery conviction of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham.
• Istook took $29,000 from Abramoff and his lobbying partners and, according to the Associated Press, repeatedly signed letters on behalf of Abramoff clients after accepting those contributions.
• Shuster had to give away campaign contributions from Abramoff and his associates after the scandal blew up.• Westmoreland accepted more than $15,000 from former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's ARMPAC, was a leader in efforts to apply ethics standards to DeLay and has been repeatedly linked to "K Street Project" concerns. Westmoreland is, as well, a close ally Abramoff-tied lobbyist Ralph Reed, and an active supporter of Reeds campaign for lieutenant governor of Georgia this year.
• Foxx also accepted $15,000 from DeLay's ARMPAC and also voted to weaken House ethics rules in order to protect her mentor.
• Blackburn's another major recipient of DeLay's largesse and a loyal ally of the indicted ex-leader, having contributed $5,000 to DeLay's legal defense fund. McHenry's one of DeLay's biggest defenders in the House, having declared after the Texan's legal troubles arose that, "I think in this situation Tom DeLay has become a whipping post for all the liberals in Washington."
• Brown-Waite took $20,000 from DeLay's ARMPAC, voted to weaken the ethics rules, contributed to DeLay's legal defense fund. She also met with Abramoff and took money from his clients.
• Cannon took thousands of dollars from associates of Abramoff and then actually hired one of them, David Safavian, to be his chief of staff.
• Goode, along with his friend Duke Cunningham, has been linked to the defense contractor MZM – the company accused of bribing Cunningham with millions of dollars in exchange for defense contracts. Goode recently donated $88,000 in political contributions he had received from MZM and its associates to charity. According to a USA Today investigation: "In more than 30 instances, donations from MZM's political action committee or company employees went to two members of the House Appropriations Committee -- Cunningham and Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va. -- in the days surrounding key votes or contract awards that helped MZM grow."
Ned Lamont, the Connecticut cable television entrepreneur whose anger over Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman's support of Bush administration policies spurred him to explore whether to mount a primary challenge to the most prominent Democratic supporter of the war on Iraq, is done exploring.
Lamont's running, and he's got a message for the globetrotting incumbent who returned from his most recent trip to Iraq with a ringing endorsement of the occupation: "Senator," the challenger said, "stop by Bridgeport on your way back from Baghdad and listen to your constituents..."
What Lamont thinks Lieberman's constituents will tell the senator when Connecticut Democrats vote in the August 9 primary is that the Bush administration must be challenged, not coddled.
Making pointed reference to the incumbent's status as the Democrat that Republicans love to love, Lamont declared his candidacy with a Monday announcement that, "I am jumping into this Senate primary because voters deserve a choice."
That choice, the challanger suggests, is between a "Republican-lite" incumbent who cooperates with the administration and a progressive who will confront the president when Bush is wrong.
"Let's have the debate," Lamont announced in a speech that spelled out the differences between the three-term incumbent and a progressive challenger who promises he won't be "complicit" with this White House.
Lamont's declaration of candidacy was blunt and aggressive in its critique of Lieberman, signaling that this will not be a tepid challenge to a Democratic incumbent who has broken faith with the progressive base of the Democratic party.
Here's an excerpt from Lamont's announcement speech.
Let's have the debate.
Three years ago politicians with years of political experience rushed our troops off to war; they told us the war would be easy; we'd be greeted as liberators.
Now three years later, America is no safer, Israel is no safer, the Middle East is even less stable, Iran is on the prowl, Osama Bid Laden is on the prowl, and we have 130,000 valiant troops stuck in the middle of a violent civil war in the heart of Iraq.
Those who got us into this mess should be held accountable.
In Washington they give you a medal; in my world they say: "You're fired."
I say it is time for the Iraqis to take control of their own destiny and we're just getting in the way.
Let's have the debate.
The $250 million a day we are spending in Iraq is better spent on pre-school and healthcare, public transit and veterans benefits.
Let's have the debate.
I would have lead the opposition to the nomination of Judge Alito? Next year the Supreme Court will hear the South Dakota law which outlaws a woman's right to choose, even in the case of rape and incest.
Let's have the debate.
I believe that President George Bush's illegal wiretaps, his reckless fiscal and environmental policies are weakening America and leaving too many hardworking citizens behind.
I doubt that anybody will call me "George Bush's favorite Democrat."
Do you remember that Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska? Part of the 6,371 earmarks, which are multi million dollar pork ridden special favors for special congressmen, added to a bill at the last moment, under the cloak of darkness. And it's all legal, the big easy for career politicians.
If you are not shouting from the rafters that this is wrong, then you are complicit and part of the problem.
I am not a shouter, but I come to this race as someone who is obviously not afraid of a challenge. I am ready challenge business as usual, I am ready to fight for our Democratic values and I will tell the Bush administration to put their haughty arrogance in their back pocket and deal with the rest of the world with respect. That's how America will start winning again in a post 9-11 world.
As I travel the state I have heard from thousands of you - students and elderly, veterans and teachers, small business and labor, even a few courageous political leaders: let's have a primary, let's have the debate: how did we get into this mess and how do we get out?
Sure, there are some that have not been quite so encouraging: Ned, don't jeopardize a safe seat.
I tell them, Connecticut is a progressive state. You're not losing a Senator, you're gaining a Democrat.
They tell me, Ned, don't rock the boat.
And I tell them, baby, it's high time we "rock the boat."
We are running for the heart and soul of the Democratic party; we're showing the country that we can win as proud Democrats fueled by your grassroots support and energy and passion; and on August 9 the pundits will be shaking their heads and noting: here come the Democrats.
U.S. Senator Russ Feingold on Monday asked the Senate to officially censure President Bush for breaking the law by authorizing an illegal wiretapping program, and for misleading Congress and the American people about the existence and legality of that program.
If the Wisconsin Democrat's move were to succeed, Bush would be the first president in 172 years to be so condemned by Congress.
Charging that the President's illegal wiretapping program is in direct violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) – which makes it a crime to wiretap Americans in the United States without a warrant or a court order -- Feingold argues that Congress cannot avoid facing the fact that fundamental Constitutional issues are at stake.
"The President must be held accountable for authorizing a program that clearly violates the law and then misleading the country about its existence and its legality," says Feingold. "The President's actions, as well as his misleading statements to both Congress and the public about the program, demand a serious response. 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."
Feingold's motion faces an uphill fight in a Republican-controlled Senate that does not appear to be inclined to make Bush the first president since Andrew Jackson to be censured by Congress. But it does raise the stakes at a point when the Wisconsin senator and civil libertarians have grown frustrated with the failure of Congress to aggressively challenge the administration's penchant for warrantless wiretapping.
Republican senators have proposed rewriting laws to remove barriers to wiretapping, arguing that the president must have flexibility in order to pursue his war on terror.
But Feingold rejects the suggestion that changing the rules after the fact would absolve the president.
"This issue is not about whether the government should be wiretapping terrorists – of course it should, and it can under current law" Feingold said. "But this President and this administration decided to break the law and they have yet to give a convincing explanation of why their actions were necessary, appropriate, or legal. Passing more laws will not change the fact that the President broke the ones already in place and for that, Congress must hold him accountable." Though the censure procedure is not outlined in the Constitution – as is impeachment – it is well established in the history and traditions of the Congress.
Jackson was censured in 1834 for refusing to cooperate with a Congressional investigation, and there have been many moves over the years to use the procedure to hold president's to account.
In 1998, a then-new online activist group, MoveOn.org, proposed that as an alternative to impeaching Bill Clinton for lying to a grand jury and obstructing justice, the president could be censured. After rejecting impeachment in 1999, senators discussed censuring Clinton but failed to muster the votes to do so.
Last December, U.S. Representative John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, introduced separate resolutions to censure President Bush and Vice President Cheney for refusing to cooperate with Congressional investigations into the manipulation and mismanagement of intelligence by the administration when it was lobbying the House and Senate to authorize and support the invasion of Iraq.
Conyers has also introduced a resolution calling for establishment of a select committee to review the actions of administration with regard to the use of pre-war intelligence and to make recommendations regarding impeachment.
While the impeachment process can lead to the removal of a president or vice president from office, a vote to censure Bush would merely condemn him.
Though Feingold says that the president's actions are "in the strike zone" of meeting the definition of an impeachable offense, the senator argues that censuring Bush is the proper and necessary step at this time. "The president has broken the law and, in some way, he must be held accountable," explained the third-term senator who is considering a run for the presidency in 2008.
"Congress has to reassert our system of government, and the cleanest and the most efficient way to do that is to censure the president," said Feingold, who added that he hoped a censure vote would lead Bush to "acknowledge that he did something wrong."
The White House did not respond to Feingold's announcement. But Republican senators rallied to the administration's defense. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, dismissed the censure move as "a crazy political move" that would weaken the president's hand in a time of war. U.S. Senator John Warner, R-Virginia, accused Feingold of "political grandstanding."
But Feingold's record of challenging the actions of Democrat and Republican administrations may make that charge a tough sell. The ranking Democrat on the Constitution subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feingold has repeatedly clashed with the Bush administration, and before that with the Clinton administration, over separation of powers issues. Indeed, he was the only Democrat who broke party ranks in 1999 to oppose a proposal to dismiss charges against Clinton before the Senate trial on the impeachment charges against the Democratic president had been completed.
An outspoken civil libertarian, the Wisconsin Democrat has a long record of confronting abuses of Constitutional protections by the executive branch.
When it was revealed in December that, despite previous denials by the president and his aides, Bush had repeatedly authorized a secret program by the National Security Agency to listen in on Americans' phone calls, Feingold charged that the spying scheme was indicative of a "pattern of abuse" by a president who was "grabbing too much power."
"We have a system of law. (Bush) just can't make up the law," complained Feingold. "It would turn George Bush not into President George Bush, but King George Bush."