Feingold Finds Little Backing For Censure

Virtually all of Sen. Russ Feingold's Democratic colleagues share his displeasure with President Bush.

But so far, only a handful seem prepared to even consider supporting his push for a nonbinding measure to censure Bush -- an action that is forcing Democrats to choose between expressing their dissatisfaction with an unpopular president and getting hammered for supporting yet another symbolic resolution while key national issues go unaddressed.

"I do think it would behoove us to put some pressure on the president to start listening to what is going on in the country," said freshman Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). "But I came here to get stuff done -- not to vote on procedural motions."

"I really don't know if there is any appetite for [censure] in the Senate," said Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), one of three co-sponsors of a Feingold censure last year rebuking the Bush administration for its warrantless domestic surveillance program.

"There is a lot of anger and frustration [here],'' Kerry said, "but I am not sure it's gravitated towards that."

Even Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has called Bush the "worst president in the modern history of America," would not definitively say he'll support Feingold's measure.

Stymied by a slim majority, yet facing an outcry from their rank and file to end the war in Iraq and voice disagreement with other Bush policies, Democrats are divided on the best way to proceed.

Senate Democrats have already moved on a series of nonbinding resolutions on the war and a nonbinding, no-confidence resolution against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who controls the Senate agenda, quickly brushed off Feingold's censure suggestion.

Nonetheless, the Wisconsin senator still plans to introduce "within days" a pair of censure resolutions: one condemning the president for his prosecution of the war and another criticizing the administration's "attack on the rule of law," for its warrantless wiretapping program and the firing of nine U.S. attorneys. 



Feingold has heard his colleagues talk tough about Bush; now he wants them to back it up. "For people to use the kind of rhetoric they use, talking about the dishonesty and talking about the [war as] the biggest mistake in American history," said Feingold, "how do people speak these words and not vote for a simple resolution that says [the president] did a bad thing?"

Many Senate Democrats have expressed their outrage on these issues. But with congressional public approval slumping, they are under increasing public pressure to get something done. 

With congressional approval ratings hovering below 30 percent in most recent polls and a new Washington Post/ABC News poll showing that 69 percent of liberals surveyed say congressional Democrats have not done enough to prod Bush to end the war, Democrats are starting to feel whipsawed by competing pressures.

Feingold is seizing on the numbers as justification for a censure measure, saying there is "a national feeling of having been abused by an incredibly dishonest administration." And a few Democrats are at least leaving the door open to supporting his move.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), echoed Kerry's ambivalence, saying that censure isn't necessary because "Bush was censured last in last November's [elections]."

Still, Kennedy said if the measure were brought to the floor, he'd support it.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) has called Feingold's measure "appropriate" and also has not ruled out supporting it. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have given strong indications that they may vote to censure Bush.

"Things have gotten far worse since the last time [Feingold] introduced it," Boxer said.

Senate Republicans, however, are eager to use Feingold's measure t portray Democrats as divided and ineffective.

"This is like Christmas in July," one GOP leadership aide said of Feingold's measure, saying it further highlights Democratic divisions over the war.

While many Democratic senators praised Feingold for trying to make a point, there was clear concern about the political ramifications of taking such a step.

"It's time to pass some bills and get some things done," said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

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