While the discussion of the proposed censure of President Bush has largely focused on the Democrats' hesitance to take a position, today's debate actually reveals failures by Congressional leaders in both political parties. Republicans refuse to investigate their President's misconduct while Democrats keep waiting for Godot, hoping for investigations that will never happen.
Many Democrats are stalling on censure with an old Washington tactic: Demand an investigation and wait. While Congressional inquiries can be valuable, they should not substitute for taking a stand. Yet it is the Republicans who control Congress and its investigatory committees. Their failing is graver than inaction -- they are abdicating their constitutional duty to conduct meaningful oversight of the Executive Branch.
Today the Judiciary Committee is considering Senator Russ Feingold's censure resolution, and the proposal is quite specific. It says Congress should censure the President for misleading Congress and unlawfully authorizing wiretaps of Americans "without obtaining the court orders" required by law.
There are essentially two parts to the resolution: a description of the President's actions and prescription for what to do about it.
Several Democrats, including leaders on intelligence issues such as Senators Carl Levin and Diane Feinstein, say they need an investigation on the first part before they can decide on the second part. Yet as First Amendment attorney Glenn Greenwald emphasized on his blog, there is virtually no disagreement about the facts in the censure resolution. The Bush Administration has admitted it spied on Americans without warrants. In fact, it is now working with Congress to try to legalize more warrantless spying.
It would be disingenuous for people in either party to claim they don't know if the NSA conducted surveillance without warrants. The second part is, of course, a matter of opinion: Do the President's actions merit censure? Most Republicans have answered clearly. Democrats should do the same.
Yet the battle over a potential investigation goes beyond simply answering that question. The Republican Congress has been either negligent or complicit in each Bush Administration failure, while Democrats keep waiting for investigations that will never happen.
To see an example of strong leadership, the Senators considering censure at today's hearing need only look down the street to the U.S. House. While Republicans stalled last year, Representative John Conyers conducted an independent inquiry into the Administration's "Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retributions and Cover-ups in the Iraq War." In December, he released a 273-page report on it and introduced a House Resolution on censure. It only took a few more months for the Senate resolution to ignite the debate, and the public clearly welcomes it...
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