Republicans made a bad mistake if they thought by holding a hearing on censure they could embarrass critics of the President.
For when the Senate Judiciary Committee met on March 31 to explore Senator Feingold’s censure bill, the Wisconsin Senator scored point after point.
First, in his opening statement, he boxed Senator Arlen Specter into a corner. Specter has been pooh-poohing censure and has boasted of introducing a bill that he says will correct some of the problems he sees in Bush’s handling of the NSA spying.
But Feingold noted that Bush’s claim of Presidential authority would render Specter’s bill meaningless.
"If the President has the inherent authority to authorize whatever surveillance he thinks is necessary, then he surely will ignore your law, just as he has ignored FISA on many occasions," Feingold said.
Under such a circumstance, "nothing that we can legislate, no matter how carefully crafted, is worth a hill of beans."
Or as John Dean of Watergate fame added: Even as Bush would be signing Specter’s law, "Dick Cheney will be drafting a signing statement that will gut the law."
Feingold made clear, in dramatic language, what this kind of Presidential overreaching, if unchecked, would mean: “We no longer have a constitutional system consisting of three co-equal branches of government; we have a monarchy.”
And Feingold warned, "If we in Congress don’t stand up for ourselves and for the American people, we become complicit in his lawbreaking."
Feingold also dispatched with the claim that the Senate has no right to censure the President. He quoted constitutional scholars on the subject, and he noted that in 1999 thirty-eight Senators, including several Republicans, co-sponsored a resolution to censure Bill Clinton.
Feingold said Bush’s lawbreaking was a "greater threat to our Republic" than Nixon's. Dean agreed. "The situation is even more serious," Dean said. "Never before have I felt the slightest reason to fear our government. Nor do I frighten easily. But I do fear the Bush/Cheney government."
Feingold charged the Bush Administration and the Republicans with a "cover-up" for not bringing forward former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who himself had expressed reservations about Bush's NSA spying.
And Feingold was particularly outraged by Bush's misleading statements about the program.
"The President has acted in bad faith both with regard to not revealing this program to the appropriate members of Congress, the full committees that were entitled to it, but more importantly by making misleading statements throughout America suggesting that this program did not exist... and then, after the fact, dismissing the possibility that he might have done something wrong," Feingold said.
"To me, the lawbreaking is shocking in itself but the defiant way that the President has persisted in defending his actions with specious legal arguments and misleading statements is part of what led me to conclude that censure is a necessary step."
Bruce Fein, who was in Reagan's Justice Department, joined Feingold in denouncing Bush's secrecy. "President Bush's intent was to keep the program secret from Congress and to avoid political or legal accountability indefinitely," Fein testified. "Secrecy of that sort makes checks and balances a farce."
Fein also argued that Bush's theory of his inherent powers would justify him in "employing battlefield tactics on the sidewalks of the United States."
Feingold did not limit himself to Bush's NSA scandal. He put it in the context of Bush's assertions of executive power with regard to torture and preemptive war.
"What we have here," Feingold said, "is one of the greatest attempts to dismantle our system of government that we have seen in the history of our country."