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March 13, 2006
Feingold Goes Off The Reservation

Senator Russ Feingold attempted to start his 2008 presidential campaign with a bang. In a move anticipated for the past few days, the Wisconsin Senator followed his opposition to the Patriot Act with a motion to censure George Bush for his approval of the NSA intercept program that has helped keep America safe from attack since 9/11. As soon as he introduced the motion, he fled the well of the Senate as the Republicans attempted to schedule an immediate vote on the censure:

Democrats distanced themselves Monday from Wisconsin Sen. Russell Feingold's effort to censure President Bush over domestic spying, preventing a floor vote that could alienate swing voters.

A day of tough, election-year talk between Feingold and Vice President Dick Cheney ended with Senate leaders sending the matter to the Judiciary Committee.

Republicans dared Democrats to vote for the proposal.

"Some Democrats in Congress have decided the president is the enemy," Vice President Dick Cheney told a Republican audience in Feingold's home state.

If anyone expected the Democrats to make significant gains against the GOP, which has seen its popularity buffeted by scandals the past few weeks, that analysis obviously excluded the capacity for Democrats to shoot themselves in the foot. Only an idiot would attempt to make a president the enemy during wartime, especially for an action that he performed in defense of the country. In fact, the 9/11 Commission specifically scolded the Bush and Clinton administrations for not allowing the NSA to do its job and surveil international communications. The Republicans would be happy to have that debate, especially with someone who wouldn't vote to continue allowing counterterrorism agents to use the same legal tools provided to investigators in racketeering and child-pornography cases.

Fortunately for the Republicans, Feingold demonstrated that he is that big a fool. Other Democrats were not as sanguine about the proposal, sensing that scolding a president over a program supported by a solid majority of the electorate would fall flat with swing voters. After Bill Frist scheduled an immediate vote, Democrats objected, and when he scheduled a vote for tomorrow morning, they complained that Harry Reid had not been consulted on the motion. That sent a clear signal that Feingold had gone off the reservation, as no one who read a paper or watched the national news could have missed Feingold's highly-telegraphed move.

The notion of censure is silly on its face. The administration has a solid case for its argument that the authorization for use of military force carries with it the implicit duty to monitor the communications of the enemy. If Congress wanted to challenge its legality, they could take the administration to the Supreme Court for a ruling. However, the result could well strangle FISA in its attempt to override clearly Constitutional duties for the commander in chief. Instead, Congress has just decided to pass another regulation like FISA rather than challenge Bush's effort -- because most members understand that only does Bush have a case, but that the Supreme Court would likely strip FISA of its pretensions in dictating how a wartime president can surveil the enemy.

Feingold may think this will put his presidential campaign on the map, but in reality it shows that even his fellow Democrats find it hard to follow him. Good luck in 2008, Russ.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 13, 2006 5:52 PM

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