While pundits and politicians can debate the merit and practicality of Senator Russ Feingold's resolution to censure President Bush, there is one point not up for debate: Senator Feingold single-handedly has brought the need for investigation into President Bush's domestic spy program back into the public's eye. And for that, Sen. Feingold deserves applause from all Americans.
For all intents and purposes, efforts to hold a thorough investigation of Bush's warrantless surveillance of Americans were effectively dead. This should not be a partisan issue, and until recently it wasn't. Several prominent conservatives and Republicans in Congress have been outspoken critics of the program -- including former Nixon counsel John Dean, columnist George Will, former congressman Bob Barr, and Senators Snowe, Collins, Hagel, Graham and Specter. But as these critics have faded away and others remain silent, the Bush administration has successfully blocked any extensive probe of its spy program.
And as port deals and the emerging civil war in Iraq dominated page one, many Americans have shifted their focus away from a presidential program that the US Justice Department said does not comply with the "procedures" of the law that has regulated domestic espionage since 1978. This spy program continues unabated today.
Furthermore, I've previously explained on this blog why the roadblocks set up by FBI Headquarters in the Moussaoui investigation pre 9-11 -- contrary to characterizations by conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh and William Kristol -- do not justify the warrantless eavesdropping program.
Sen. Feingold's bold move reintroduces the question of investigation, and further investigation is precisely what America needs. Who exactly was being monitored? How many phone calls and e-mails are being tapped? What is the criteria, and who decides which persons are monitored? What kind, if any, of oversight is entailed? What happens to the data after being processed?
If the President is correct in claiming his program is both legal and vital to the larger "War on Terror," then prove it. Let's have a bipartisan, comprehensive review of the program. Let's do it behind closed doors, so as not to reveal any sensitive details that could compromise our national security.
Keeping America safe is an absolute priority. But that responsibility does not give the President license to break the law. John Adams wrote "We are a Nation of Laws, not Men," and no one, including the President, is above the law. If the existing law is inadequate for what needs to be done, the President is legally compelled to go to the Congress, the branch of government that writes our laws, and explore changes accordingly.
That didn't happen, and we still don't know exactly what's going on.
Again, this shouldn't be a partisan issue -- all Americans have an interest in seeing their elected officials respect the rule of law. Yet scores of Republicans have remained completely silent, neither criticizing nor condoning Bush's secret program.
Fortunately, Sen. Feingold's move has already accelerated the process. On Sunday, Senator Dick Durbin said, "Sen. Feingold is moving us forward to finally be a catalyst to have the kind of hearings and the kind of deliberations as to what lies behind this warrantless wiretap situation."
He went on to say, "We have a responsibility to ask the hard questions, to find out what the nature of the program is and whether the president violated the law."
Would the number two Senate Democrat have made these statements on national television had Sen. Feingold not introduced the censure? I don't know. But it did happen, and we owe Sen. Feingold a debt of gratitude for bringing this crucial investigation back to the table.
Coleen Rowley is a Democratic Candidate for U.S. Congress, Minnesota's Second District