RNC Mischaracterizes Feingold’s Censure Resolution

A GOP radio ad accuses Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin of proposing to censure President Bush “for pursuing suspected members of al Qaeda,” which isn’t true.  Feingold has stated he supports wiretapping suspected terrorists. His measure would censure Bush for ordering wiretaps on US soil without a court warrant, for failing to notify all members of the Senate and House intelligence committees, and for “efforts to mislead the American people” about the legality of the program.

Analysis

The Republican National Committee (RNC) released the radio advertisement on March 21. The RNC would not disclose how much they spent on the ad, but an RNC spokesperson said the advertisement is scheduled to run for a week on Wisconsin radio stations.

RNC AD: “Censure”

Announcer: September 11th changed our country.
And it changed how America responds to terrorists.
President Bush is working to keep American families safe.
Passing the PATRIOT Act which has disrupted over one hundred and fifty terrorist threats and cells making sure the US is monitoring terrorist communications.
But some Democrats are working against these efforts to secure our country, opposing the PATRIOT Act and terrorist surveillance program.
Their leader is Russ Feingold.
Now Feingold and other Democrats want to censure the President. Publicly reprimanding President Bush for pursuing suspected members of al Qaeda.
Some Democrats are even calling for President Bush’s impeachment.
Is this how Democrats plan to win the War on Terror?
Call Russ Feingold and ask him why he’s more interested in censuring the President than protecting our freedom.
Paid for by the Republican National Committee not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee
www.gop.com.
The Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

The ad characterizes President Bush as “working to keep American families safe,” while accusing Sen. Feingold of leading Democrats who are “working against . . . efforts to secure our country.” The ad claims that “Feingold and other Democrats want to censure the President. Publicly reprimanding President Bush for pursuing suspected members of al Qaeda.” That is a false characterization.

Mischaracterizing the Censure Resolution

When Feingold introduced his resolution to censure the president on March 13 he stated clearly on the Senate floor: 

Feingold: No one questions — no one questions — whether the government should wiretap suspected terrorists.  Of course we should and we can under the current law.

He also stated in a March 12 press release :

Feingold: This issue is not about whether the government should be wiretapping terrorists — of course it should, and it can under present law.

The resolution would censure Bush for the way in which he ordered wiretaps, not for the wiretaps themselves. It would condemn him for “unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans within the United States without obtaining the court orders required ” (emphasis added), and also for “failure to inform the full congressional intelligence committees,” and for “his efforts to mislead the American people” about the legalities of the program.

Feingold and the PATRIOT Act

The radio ad says the PATRIOT Act “has disrupted over one hundred and fifty terrorist threats and cells,” a claim that rests solely on statements  from the Department of Justice and which hasn’t been independently verified. The ad also says Feingold is leading Democrats in “opposing the PATRIOT Act and terrorist surveillance program.”

The surveillance program is separate from the Patriot Act, however. It is true that Feingold has twice opposed enactment of the PATRIOT Act.  In 2001, Feingold was the only Senator to vote against the original act and in 2006 he was one of ten Senators who voted against the bill that renewed the act with modifications. Feingold says on his website : “the [PATRIOT] Act contains many provisions that are needed to help protect our nation against terrorism,” and says he voted against the act because “the bill went too far in allowing the government to obtain personal information about law-abiding Americans and in undermining constitutional rights and protections.” As for the surveillance program, as we’ve noted, Feingold does oppose the nature of Bush’s program but not surveillance of suspected terrorist.

Who is Calling for Impeachment?

The ad also says that “some Democrats are even calling for President Bush’s impeachment .” That’s true, but there aren’t many.  Rep. John Conyers introduced a bill  last December to create a select committee to “make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment.” As of March 21, Conyers had attracted 31 additional sponsors.

Republicans hope to convince voters that Democrats intend to impeach the President if they gain control of Congress. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said March 20 on CNN’s Situation Room: “the [impeachment] talk originally came up from a number of different people, including John Conyers, a gentlemen who if the Democrats took control, would be the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. And what I think is important for people to understand is this is their agenda.”

by Emi Kolawole

Sources

Congressional Record, 13 March 2006, S2011-S2015.

“Feingold Introduces Resolution Censuring the President,” Press Release.  12 March 2006.

“Fourth Year of War in Iraq Begins; Could Democrats Launch Impeachment Campaign Against Bush?” The Situation Room.   CNN.  Transcript.  20 March 2006.

“RNC Release New Radio Ad Entitled ‘Censure’.”   Press Release.  21 March 2006.

U.S. House of Representatives, 109th Congress, 1st Session, H.Res. 635, Proposed 18 December 2005.

U.S. Senate, 109th Congress, 2nd Session.  Senate Vote No. 29

U.S. Senate, 109th Congress, 1st Session.  Senate Vote No. 313

U.S. Senate, 109th Congress, 2nd Session, S.Res. 398, Proposed 13 March 2006.

Copyright 2006 Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania

Judgments expressed are those of FactCheck.org’s staff, not the Annenberg Center

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