Monday, March 13, 2006

Censure or Impeachment? Decisions, decisions.

On Sunday, Senator Russ Feingold (D. WI.) threw down the gauntlet and launched a campaign to get Congress to censure George W. Bush for his violation of the 1978 FISA law. [WaPo] On ABC's This Week he said, "The president has broken the law and, in some way, he must be held accountable." This a pretty bold move for a politician trying to get the presidential nomination of a skittish Democratic party seemingly content to just sit back and let the Republicans implode on their own. Feingold's gutsy gambit presents an intriguing departure from politics as usual by the Dems thus far and one could envision a scenario wherein such an audacious move could overwhelm a reeling Republican majority and a weak president and propel the Democrats into control of Congress, despite themselves. Although, it's true that the obvious downside of this move is that it might unite the currently fractious Republicans to rally around the president, the upside is also that it might unite the Republicans to rally around the president.

Bill Frist says there's no way this will ever come to a vote, but he might want to consider that the race for the '06 midterms is going into high gear and his fellow congressional Republicans are desperately trying to run away from Dubya' and his dismal poll ratings as fast as they can. By refusing to allow a vote on censure, the Republicans in the short term can claim they're defending the NSA domestic spying program as an extension of the war on terror, but over time if the Democrats are able to redefine the national security debate into a larger discussion about Iraq and the multitude of other failures of this administration, from Katrina to the DPW ports deal, then the defenders of Bush might find themselves between a rock and a hard place with their constituents. By appearing to be giving Bush a pass on breaking the law, they might risk undermining their recent attempts to distance themselves from him on the DPW deal and possibly lose the all important independent vote. If they don't support him 100% against censure, they risk having their base sit at home on election day.

If Feingold sticks to his guns and can force the Democrats to keep this issue alive for a few more months, the Republicans are going to have to make a tough choice. Either, they go into the full heat of the election battle with this albatross hanging around their necks, or they cut their loses and let a vote for censure go ahead. Such a vote might appear DOA at the moment, but from a Republican perspective it might not be worst thing. If they were to lose the House in November, which is daily becoming more and more of a possibility, John Conyers would become the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and he wants to impeach Bush, never mind censure him. All bets would be off at that point, and remember also, the Republicans impeached Bill Clinton with 70% of the public opposed to it; imagine what a Democratic controlled House with pay-back on their minds could do with a president who is just marginally more popular than the bird flu.

This idea of censure might not be such a pipe dream after all. If the Democrats can somehow manage to present themselves as defending the American people from a power hungry and incompetent George W. Bush who is more interested in selling off large chunks America to the highest foreign bidder than he is in defending them (not such a hard sell), the Dems might just have a chance of pulling this off. Of course, the operative word in all of this is, "if."


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