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March 20, 2006

Better to ask forgiveness than to beg permission

Neil the Ethical Werewolf thinks that Russ Feingold should have worked with Senate Democrats on censure

I say that conferring would only have given weak Democrats a chance to scuttle for strategic cover. Maybe Feingold could have hashed something out with Harry Reid. Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of unlimited time. The censure fight is a race against retroactive legalization.

Senate Democrats shouldn't need time to make up their minds. The justification for censure is ironclad: Bush broke the law and told Congress to go fuck itself. We can't just let that stand until a more convenient time. Bush's strategy is just keep doing what he's doing and insisting he has the right to do it. In a few months, illegal domestic spying will seem routine. The public's attention will shift, the outrage will fade, and Bush will win by default.

If we don't act on censure now, the toadies in the legislative branch will "fix the problem" by retroactively legalizing his FISA crimes. Not to mention any names, Joe Lieberman.

Retroactive legalization would be worst possible outcome morally and strategically. Not only would Bush get illegitimate power to spy on Americans in their own country, but so would all future presidents.

Obviously, retroactive "fixing" would also preempt both censure and impeachment. This legislation would effectively be an anti-censure resolution. All future complaints would be neutralized, no matter how many seats we picked up in the midterm elections.

The logic of the censure resolution is to keep Bush's crimes in the public eye. Feingold wants to make it costly for those who would rewrite the law to cover for the president. Bush's apologists in Congress could introduct the do-over legislation at any time. It would probably pass, especially with the help of lapdogs like Lieberman. Russ is making a preemptive strike against would-be collaborators in his own party.

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Comments

Congress should be "fixed"...in the sense that you get a tom cat fixed.


Oh, never mind...they already are.

we GOTTA elect some representatives who give a damn.

wouldn't a bill or resolution to OK the end run around FISA amount to a negative framing of the same question that censure move poses? "anti-censure" as you call it could go down to defeat couldn't it? Do you think the bush league dare to call the question? Or do they have some way to slip this in without a proper vote before the full body of legislators?

I see no reason to consult Ben Nelson and Lieberman on censure;they would veto or sabotage it. I see no reason to consider their feelings or egos, or follow a leadership that has lost everything for a decade. When Reid wins seats or gives me hope or even a reason, I will follow. It is not my job or Feingold's to proyecy their sorry butts. There are probably about ten Democratic Senators I have any loyalty to at this point. As currently constituted a net gain of six Democratic Senators would get progressives very little, and I would expect that Senate to, for example, confirm an anti-choice Justice.

Kick 'em. If they run in circles instead of left, kick them til they get it right. The Party can go to hell.

You make a persuasive argument, Lindsay. We'll have to add you to our round-up list when martial law is declared.

Since the process of getting warrants is so quick, easy, and certain, the Bush Administration didn’t need to resort to illegal actions to gather intelligence. Instead, this was but one more of several steps they have taken to establish that the President has sole authority over national security without constraint from either courts or congress.

If the US Congress considers that it has any role in this government beyond padding spending bills with earmarks, then it needs to take these power grabs by the President seriously and say NO in a loud voice.

The only legit argument among democrats should have been about, "who had the best censure resolution." Since they all should have been working on one. Now we find the best support Feingold has comes from the Neocon Bill Kristol who thought it was a smart political move, because it's out there and no one is rebutting it with proof that the NSA spying is legal.

Do you think the bush league dare to call the question? Or do they have some way to slip this in without a proper vote before the full body of legislators?

I think that's just it--Bush and his allies won't move as long as censure stays in the headlines. The issue is just too hot to handle, especially with the Republicans so disunited and the midterm elections coming up. Feingold's big move is even flushing out support from some Republicans. I don't think Chafee would have criticized the president the way he did if Feingold and his allies hadn't taken the lead.

No matter what Congress does next, it does not have the power to retroactively legalize the past four years' worth of lawbreaking by the administration - the Constitution mandates that "No... ex post facto Law shall be passed", and reserves the authority to grant pardons exclusively to... the President - "except in Cases of Impeachment." Therefore it does not have power to save the president from having flagrantly committed high crimes and misdemeanors and eminently qualifying for impeachment.

If Congress did pass Mike DeWine's Congressional Capitulation Act of 2006 (a.k.a. the unconstitutional "Terrorist Surveillance Act"), not only would it enshrine the right of this and future presidents to spy on Americans on American soil with no checks by the other two branches; it would also enshrine the power of this and future presidents to simply require that Congress rewrite the law after the fact to match whatever actions it decided to take - turning Congress into a 535-member Royal Stenographers' Office.

The censure resolution was just right - it has already put media attention squarely back on the most important piece of news in the world right now, the pending usurpation of democracy by the president of the United States - and it will help propel the attention through this fall's elections, after which, with Democrat control of at least one chamber, it will become practical for the debate to move to its logical conclusion. History is on Russ Feingold's side and will show him to have been the hero of the hour for standing up and doing what needs to be done to keep our democracy safe.

Shotgunfreude, you're right that Congress doesn't have the power to make it the case that domestic spying was legal when Bush did it. However, if Congress legalizes warrantless domestic wiretapping against American's it is endorsing Bush's spying and his lawlessness. If Congress did that, all discussions of censure and impeachment would end.

Lindsay, that might be true, but I was trying to distinguish between the legal and the political. If Congress actually passes the Congressional Capitulation Act, it will be void ab initio for violating the Constitution - and while Congress would shut up and move on to just enough token reforms of how many and what type of cocktails lobbyists are allowed to buy them each morning, lawyers could go on pointing out that the spying on Americans and the new "law" baptizing it are unconstitutional, and I think that would help drive people on the ground to keep disseminating a public awareness of the outrage, with the goal of voting the flaccid pushovers out of office. I'm sure all discussions of censure and impeachment would not end on majikthise.

I'm so sick of all the leftie bloggers second-guessing Feingold. Do you think it's at all possible that Russ Feingold has a better sense of how his Senate colleagues were likely to react to his proposal than the rest of us? And don't you think he would have preferred to have gone forward with this confident that the entire Democratic caucus was behind him? Could the fact that he did an end-run around the Dem power-brokers possibly have anything to do with the way those power-brokers were overwhelmingly likely to react?

At any rate, hand-wringing over whether Russ was right to spring this "without warning" (gimme a break) is pointless. It's too late for that, the censure resolution is already out there. If you think the president doesn't merit censure, then fine, make that case. But if you think Bush broke the law, then I don't see how you have any choice but to line up behind Russ on this. Quibbling about whether or not Feingold went through the proper channels could not possibly be further from the point.

Thad--

Absolutely right. And I'll bet Feingold did some polling on the issue before he went forward as well. While the NYT and WaPo were saying it was a bad political move, the Wall Street Journal was pointing out that this was a clear signal to the voters that there would be a real change in Washington if Democrats take control of the congress in November.

And if that's not the message that the opposition party wants to send, what is?

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