A U.S. Senate Democrat has introduced legislation to censure President Bush for authorizing the warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens.
Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, argues that President Bush overstepped the law when he ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop, without warrants, on phone calls and emails between Americans on U.S. soil and suspected terrorists overseas.
The program bypasses a special federal court whose approval is required under law for domestic wiretapping operations.
Feingold, a potential presidential candidate in 2008, says lawmakers should respond to the president's action.
"Congress should censure a president who has so plainly broken the law," he said.
Although many Democrats and some Republicans have raised questions about the legality of the wiretapping program, Feingold's censure measure is not expected to get very far. Republicans, who control the chamber, are not likely to vote for it, and it is not clear how many Democrats would support it.
A number of Democrats, many of whom face reelection this year, are concerned such action could alienate so-called 'swing voters' - or voters who do not always vote along party lines. Many Democrats want congress to move ahead with probes of the wiretap program before considering any censure of the president.
"I think it is important, regardless of party affiliation, that we ask the critical constitutional and legal questions about this wiretap program. This resolution by Senator Feingold would be a catalyst for that type of investigation, those types of hearings," said Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois is a member of the Senate Democratic leadership.
The White House defends the wire tapping program as an important tool in the war on terrorism and says it is legal. Spokesman Scott McClellan dismissed Feingold's censure call as politically motivated. The comments were echoed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican.
"I do believe this is a political stunt, a political stunt that is addressed at attacking the president of the United States of America when we are at war," he said.
A congressional censure is an official reprimand of the president. The Senate has only taken such action once - in 1834 against President Andrew Jackson.