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Democrats slash Feingold move on censure, as Feingold says party 'cowering'

John Byrne
Published: Tuesday March 14, 2006

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While mainstream media outlets have pounced on the fact that Democrats blocked an effort by one of their own to censure President Bush over his warrantless wiretapping program, RAW STORY has found that Senate Democratic offices are fuming. The proposal to censure the President was introduced on a Sunday talk show by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI).

Though all say they believe the program warrants "more investigation," several Senate aides rebuked Feingold for proposing censure. They say that his move had the potential to derail Democratic efforts to strengthen the party's image on homeland security issues, noting that a large part of the country believes the eavesdropping program should continue. Bush has defended the program, calling it a "terrorist surveillance" program, and has used aides to defend its legality.

Strikingly, some of the criticism came from liberal Senate offices.

One longtime Senate aide was particularly scathing.

“Feingold’s grandstanding screwed the pooch and played into Bill Frist’s hands," the aide said. "Thank God Dems punted this down the field. Frist was going to force Democrats to vote on a resolution Feingold had kept a big secret and he would’ve split the caucus on an issue that needed time to get the whole caucus to support. Russ Feingold had only one persons’ interests in mind with his Sunday bombshell, and those were his own. He practically handed a victory to a Bush White House that desperately needs a win.”

Feingold, defending his censure plan today on Fox News, said: “I’m amazed at Democrats, cowering with this president’s numbers so low. The administration just has to raise the specter of the war and the Democrats run and hide…too many Democrats are going to do the same thing they did in 2000 and 2004. In the face of this, they’ll say we’d better just focus on domestic issues…[Democrats shouldn’t] cower to the argument, that whatever you do, if you question administration, you’re helping the terrorists.”

Feingold’s office declined to comment.

Three senior Senate Democratic aides said they hadn't heard of Feingold's plan until it was proposed Sunday. One said he'd heard that Feingold was going to introduce the measure late last week.

"This thing came up quick without a lot of time for other offices and other senators to look at the resolution and decide how they wanted to proceed," an aide said.

Some aides were more supportive. One staffer said that the climate for censure was unclear, and that despite others' griping about the timing and approach, Democrats were still open to the idea.

“I don’t think people are unwilling" to support it, one Democratic Senate aide said. "I don’t think people are 100 percent yes. If you look at the comments of Senator Reid and other senators' comments, you can see that other people want further investigations. Nobody’s said no on censure except Joe Lieberman as far as I know.”

One aide said that some senators felt the move went "too far."

“I just think you know there’s was a concern among a number members of the caucus that this was going a little too far," the staffer remarked. "The majority of the American people agree with what the president’s doing. A lot of people outside the beltway see this as a tool that’s keeping Americans safe."

The aide added that some members have concerns that backing censure would hurt Democrats’ image on national security.

“There were concerns that this would backfire on the Democrats just as they were beginning to get the upper hand or at least beefing up the playing field on homeland security credentials,” the aide added. “The Dubai deal, the war in Iraq, the president’s numbers heading south. Democrats have a long history of shooting themselves in the foot when the good things work and we’ve been known to do some things that end up hurting us rather than helping us.”

Several aides said their offices were stressing “more investigations” as an alternative to censure. One aide said public hearings would be better in bringing Americans around to the idea that Bush had done something wrong.

“Democrats had decided that public hearings were needed on the wiretapping to educate the public before considering a censure,” one staffer quipped. “Hearings would’ve forced Arlen Specter and Lindsay Graham to continue to criticize the Administration. Everyone knew that was the gameplan. Feingold just wanted to hog the spotlight. If he were interested in holding George Bush accountable he would’ve made his pitch in the Democratic caucus behind closed doors.”