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Senator Russ Feingold's Speech Calling for Censure of President Bush

Say President Places Himself Above the Law

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On March 13, 2006, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin delivered a passionate speech demanding Senate censure of President Bush for breaking United States law. This is the full text of the senator's speech.

Senator Feingold is an independent-thinking leader who votes the courage of his strong progressive convictions, no matter the political cost. He voted against the Iraq War in 2002, and in 2005, was the first senator to call for a specific timetable for US troops to exit Iraq.

Russ Feingold is also well-known known for his work with Senator John McCain to clean-up election campaign finance abuses, via the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002.

(See Profile of Sen. Russ Feingold, Democrat with Courage of Convictions.)

Mr. President, when the President of the United States breaks the law, he must be held accountable. That is why today I am introducing a resolution to censure President George W. Bush.

The President authorized an illegal program to spy on American citizens on American soil, and then misled Congress and the public about the existence and legality of that program. It is up to this body to reaffirm the rule of law by condemning the President's actions.

All of us in this body took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and bear true allegiance to the same. Fulfilling that oath requires us to speak clearly and forcefully when the President violates the law. This resolution allows us to send a clear message that the President's conduct was wrong.

And we must do that. The President's actions demand a formal judgment from Congress.

At moments in our history like this, we are reminded why the founders balanced the powers of the different branches of government so carefully in the Constitution. At the very heart of our system of government lies the recognition that some leaders will do wrong, and that others in the government will then bear the responsibility to do right.

This President has done wrong. This body can do right by condemning his conduct and showing the people of this nation that his actions will not be allowed to stand unchallenged.

To date, members of Congress have responded in very different ways to the President's conduct. Some are responding by defending his conduct, ceding him the power he claims, and even seeking to grant him expanded statutory authorization powers to make his conduct legal. While we know he is breaking the law, we do not know the details of what the President has authorized or whether there is any need to change the law to allow it, yet some want to give him carte blanche to continue his illegal conduct.

To approve the President's actions now, without demanding a full inquiry into this program, a detailed explanation for why the President authorized it, and accountability for his illegal actions, would be irresponsible. It would be to abandon the duty of the legislative branch under our constitutional system of separation of powers while the President recklessly grabs for power and ignores the rule of law.

Others in Congress have taken important steps to check the President. Senator Specter has held hearings on the wiretapping program in the Judiciary Committee. He has even suggested that Congress may need to use the power of the purse in order to get some answers out of the Administration. And Senator Byrd has proposed that Congress establish an independent commission to investigate this program.

As we move forward, Congress will need to consider a range of possible actions, including investigations, independent commissions, legislation, or even impeachment. But, at a minimum, Congress should censure a president who has so plainly broken the law.

Our founders anticipated that these kinds of abuses would occur. Federalist Number 51 speaks of the Constitution's system of checks and balances:

"It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.

If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."

Mr. President, we are faced with an executive branch that places itself above the law. The founders understood that the branches must check each other to control abuses of government power. The president's actions are such an abuse, Mr. President. His actions must be checked, and he should be censured.

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