From the NY Times:
March 31, 2006
Censure Resolution Sparks Bitter Debate in Senate
By DAVID STOUT
President Bush's once-secret surveillance program sparked a bitter debate today before the Senate Judiciary Committee over what kind of president George W. Bush has become and how he stands in history.
The committee met to consider a resolution by one of its members, Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, to censure the president over the surveillance program. The resolution was not voted on and is almost surely going nowhere, but it still had the power to ignite feelings.
Under Mr. Bush's theory of government, Mr. Feingold said, "we no longer have a constitutional system consisting of three co-equal branches of government. We have a monarchy."
Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the panel's ranking Democrat who was congratulated on his 66th birthday today in a rare moment of bipartisan friendliness, sided with Mr. Feingold, although stopping short of saying he would vote for censure.
The Congressional resolution of force passed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, makes no mention of surveillance, Mr. Leahy said, yet "the administration claims now that Congress unconsciously authorized warrantless wiretaps."
"This is 'Alice in Wonderland' gone amok," Mr. Leahy said. "It is not what we in Congress said, and it certainly was not what we in Congress intended."
But Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said Mr. Feingold's move was "completely without merit," and he spoke contemptuously of one witness, John Dean of Watergate fame, as "a convicted felon" bent on publicizing his books.
"And I believe that the American people would view what we are about here as part of the surreal atmosphere that they believe, and sometimes correctly so, is completely out of touch with the rest of the United States," Mr. Cornyn said.
Another Republican, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, wondered why "the national spasm" over the surveillance program had not run its course. The president was within his rights and within the law to have the National Security Agency do limited surveillance, and he has kept Congressional leaders informed, the senator said.
Mr. Sessions said Mr. Feingold's resolution was irresponsible, "and it has the potential to send abroad throughout the terrorist community and to those who are watching our resolve around the world a very perverse and false message."
The panel's chairman, Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said he too thought Mr. Feingold's resolution was without merit. "But it provides a forum for the discussion of issues which really ought to be considered in greater depth than they have been," Mr. Specter said.
The expert witnesses were also far apart.
"The president did not break the law," said Prof. Robert Turner of the University of Virginia's Woodrow Wilson Department of Government and Foreign Affairs. "Every wartime president, even every wartime leader going back to George Washington, when he authorized the opening of British mail coming into the United States during the American Revolution, has done this kind of behavior. It's essential to the successful conduct of war."
But Bruce Fein, a lawyer who worked in the Justice Department in the Reagan presidency, said Mr. Bush's assertions of powers "have to be taken as permanent changes on the political landscape on checks and balances." The president's claims are "extravagant" and his interpretation of the authorization given him by Congress "is not just wrong, but preposterous," Mr. Fein said.
Then there was Mr. Dean, the White House lawyer for President Richard Nixon, making his first appearance before a Congressional panel since he mesmerized the country in his Nixon-incriminating testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee more than three decades ago.
Mr. Dean, who spoke in favor of Senator Feingold's measure, is the author of the 2004 book "Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush." Presidents "push the envelope as far as they can" in their power struggles with Congress, Mr. Dean warned. Had Mr. Nixon been censured, "it would have been a godsend," Mr. Dean said, apparently meaning that all the abuses that led to Mr. Nixon's resignation might never have happened.
One thing Mr. Dean said prompted no disagreement whatever. "I must say, I think I have probably more experience first-hand than anybody might want in what can go wrong and how a president can get on the other side of the law."
Copyright 2006The New York Times Company