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Feingold Blames Stalled Censure Motion on 'Cowering' Democrats

Sen. Russell Feingold on Tuesday blamed fellow Democrats for inaction on his stalled resolution to censure President Bush for his authorizing the National Security Agency's electronic terrorist surveillance program.

"I'm amazed at Democrats ... cowering with this president's numbers so low," said Feingold, D-Wis. "The administration ... just has to raise the specter of the War on Terror, and Democrats run and hide."

Feingold's resolution, introduced Monday, accuses Bush of violating the Constitution and the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It has failed to garner any co-sponsors.

After Sept. 11, 2001, Bush authorized the NSA to conduct some surveillance without warrants of people inside the United States. The administration has said the wiretaps are only used when someone inside this country is taking part in an overseas communication with a suspected link to terrorism.

A likely contender for the 2008 Democratic nomination, Feingold called the Bush administration "incompetent, dishonest," and said they were "rather sanctimonious."

He also said that Democrats should not be outwitted by Republicans on the legality of the wiretap program. Asked it the program is illegal, Feingold said the Bush administration "can do what they are doing now, they just need to go to FISA."

But, he said, Democrats want to focus on domestic issues instead of the warrantless wiretapping, following the advice of political consultants. He said those consultants have misinformed lawmakers that the American people support the program and that politically, it's a "losing issue."

Democrats shouldn't "cower to the argument that whatever you do, if you question this administration, you are helping the terrorists," Feingold said.

On Tuesday, Democrats on Capitol Hill avoided questions about the resolution.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters he would not comment on the issue while the Democratic leadership mulls the issue. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said, "Feingold has a point that he wants to make by introducing that resolution."

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the resolution "raises some very important issues," but she refused to discuss what they were.

"I think it needs to having hearings, we need to look what exactly what all of that means and give the opportunity for both sides to speak," she said.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has declined to endorse the resolution and said he hadn't read it.

Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who requested an immediate vote on the matter on Monday before Democrats were able to postpone it, said Tuesday that he wants to move forward with a vote or move on to other pending issues.

Frist said GOP leaders are considering adding the censure resolution as an amendment to the budget resolution currently being debated in the Senate. That would force Democrats to go on record over whether to censure the president.

"If the Democrats continue to say 'no' to voting on their own censure resolution, then they ought to drop it and focus on our foreign policy in a positive way: supporting our troops in a year of transition in Iraq, confronting Iran's runaway regime and supporting positive change on the U.N. Human Rights Commission this week," Frist said in a statement. "Delay and distraction are a disservice to the American people."

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison told FOX News that Feingold is pulling a political stunt to help draw attention to a run for president in 2008.

"I think Senator Feingold is launching his bid for president on the Senate floor. He doesn't want a vote on this; he wants to drag the president through the mud for weeks and weeks on end," Hutchison said. "Senator Frist came on the floor and said 'we're ready to vote' and they all backed down."

On Monday, lacking in support by Democrats, Feingold was unable to get a floor vote, instead sending the language to the Senate Judiciary Committee for review.

"A formal censure by Congress is an appropriate and responsible first step to assure the public that when the president thinks he can violate the law without consequences, Congress has the will to hold him accountable," Feingold said on the Senate floor.

Vice President Dick Cheney responded to the Senate fight on Monday and told a Republican audience in Feingold's home state that "some Democrats in Congress have decided the president is the enemy."

Feingold said he will support the resolution being considered in committee, but would push for a vote on it in the Senate if it didn't happen soon.

"I look forward to a full hearing, debate and vote in committee on this important matter," Feingold said in a statement late Monday. "If the Committee fails to consider the resolution expeditiously, I will ask that there be a vote in the full Senate."

The only president ever censured by the Senate was Andrew Jackson, in 1834, for removing the nation's money from a private bank in defiance of the Whig-controlled Senate.

In 1999, a censure resolution failed against President Clinton after he was acquitted by the Senate on House impeachment charges that he committed perjury and obstructed justice in the Monica Lewinsky affair.

FOX News' Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.