WASHINGTON – A liberal Democratic senator who is considering a White House bid in 2008 said Sunday he is seeking to censure President Bush over his domestic eavesdropping program. The Senate majority leader called it "a crazy political move."
A censure resolution, which simply would scold the president, has been used just once in U.S. history -- against Andrew Jackson in 1834.
Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, a longtime critic of the Bush administration, said he hoped a censure would cause Bush to apologize for the warrantless surveillance that he put in place on his own after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"What the president did, by consciously and intentionally violating the Constitution and the laws of this country with this illegal wiretapping, has to be answered," Feingold said on ABC's "This Week."
"A crazy political move" that would weaken the U.S. during wartime was the immediate response from the Senate leader, Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who appeared on ABC right after Feingold.
"Russ is just wrong. He is flat wrong, he is dead wrong," Frist said. He did not respond directly when asked if he would allow the resolution to come up for a vote.
"The signal that it sends, that there is in any way a lack of support for our commander in chief who is leading us with a bold vision in a way that is making our homeland safer is wrong," Frist said.
The White House says Bush had the power to order the monitoring as commander in chief and under a September 2001 congressional authorization to use force in the fight against terrorism.
The resolution Feingold planned to introduce on Monday would have the Senate condemn Bush's "unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans within the United States" and "his efforts to mislead the American people about the authorities relied upon by his administration to conduct wiretaps and about the legality of the program."
"The idea that the president can just make up the law in violation of his oath of office has to be answered," Feingold said.
In the House, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, is pushing legislation that would call on the Republican-controlled Congress to determine whether there are grounds for impeachment because of the eavesdropping.
The program granted intelligence officers the power to monitor -- without court approval -- the international calls and e-mails of U.S. residents, when those officers suspect terrorism may be involved.
Feingold was the first senator to urge a withdrawal timetable for U.S. troops in Iraq and was the only senator to vote in 2001 against the USA Patriot Act, the post-Sept. 11 law that expanded the government's surveillance and prosecutorial powers. Feingold also voted against the 2002 resolution authorizing Bush to use force in Iraq.
Jackson was censured by the Senate in 1834 after he removed the nation's money from a private bank in defiance of the Whig Party, which controlled the Senate. The resolution, which had no legal impact, was expunged from the Senate record in 1837 after Jackson's party, the Democrats, regained a majority in the Senate.
On Feb. 12, 1999, the Senate failed to gain enough votes to bring a censure resolution of President Clinton. The Senate had just acquitted Clinton after the House impeached him in December 1998, accusing him of committing perjury and obstructing justice in the Monica Lewinsky affair.
Feingold, who was first elected to the Senate in 1992, voted in favor of taking up the censure resolution.
Impeachment is the only punishment outlined in the Constitution for a president. But the Constitution says the House and Senate can punish their own members through censure.