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Bush Critic Seeks Senate Censure


A prominent Democrat in the U.S. Senate says he will ask lawmakers to censure - or officially scold - President Bush for his handling of a controversial domestic surveillance program. The Senate's top Republican calls the proposed censure resolution a political stunt.

The program involves eavesdropping on communications between people in the United States and contacts abroad without court approval.

President Bush says the program is necessary to keep Americans safe. He says he has the power to order surveillance without warrants under legislation authorizing the war on terrorism.

But there is a general unease in Congress with the program, which some say violates the Constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Hearings have been scheduled and postponed, and talks with the White House on possible changes are now under way.

The controversy had quieted down a bit. But a dispute over foreign management of U.S. ports and other issues have once again brought national security concerns to the top of the Congressional agenda. And now, a leading Democrat is trying to bring the domestic surveillance issue front and center before the Senate.

Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold has chosen a rather unusual way to get the attention of the legislature. Feingold - perhaps best known for his bipartisan push for campaign finance reform - wants the Senate to take up a resolution censuring the president for ordering the eavesdropping.

"What the president did by consciously and intentionally violating the constitution and the laws of this country by this illegal wiretapping has to be answered," said Russ Feingold.

Feingold told the ABC television program This Week that he will introduce the necessary legislation on Monday.

"I would hope there would be bipartisan support and recognition that this is a way without going too far, without causing a Constitutional crisis, to say: 'Mr. President, this was a mistake, this is how we feel, this is a censure,' and we hope the president would acknowledge it in an appropriate way," he said.

But Senate Republican leader Bill Frist told ABC, the censure resolution is a bad idea. And he suggested that Feingold - who has made no secret of his own White House ambitions - was engaging in a political stunt.

"Russ is just wrong, " said Bill Frist. "He is flat wrong. He is dead wrong. And, as I was listening to it, I was hoping deep inside that the leadership in Iran and other people who really have the U.S. not in their best interest are not listening, because of the terrible, terrible signal it sends."

Technically, the only punishment outlined in the Constitution for presidential wrongdoings is impeachment. But the Constitution does give Congress the right to censure its own members, and in 1834, lawmakers approved a censure resolution against President Andrew Jackson.

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