Senate sets hearing on move to censure Bush

The Republican-led U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee announced on Friday it would hold a hearing next week on a call by a Democratic lawmaker to censure President George W. Bush for his domestic spy program.

In a one-sentence notice, the panel said the hearing would be held next Friday by the order of its chairman, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who has opposed censure.

Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin introduced a resolution last week calling for a Senate censure of the president, charging that Bush’s warrantless domestic surveillance program was illegal. Revelation of the once-secret program has triggered a political uproar.

Feingold, who has attracted little support from fellow Democrats for censure, said unless a hearing was held he would push for a vote by the full Senate on his resolution.

The White House and many Republicans in Congress have denounced Feingold’s censure resolution as a political stunt.

“Some Democrats in Congress have decided the president is the enemy and the terrorist surveillance program is grounds for censuring the president,” Vice President Dick Cheney told a Republican fund-raiser in Orlando, Florida, on Friday, adding, “The American people have already made their decision. They agree with the president.”

The Senate has censured a president, which amounts to a formal rebuke, only once before and that was Andrew Jackson in 1834 in a banking dispute.

Bush secretly authorized warrantless electronic eavesdropping on Americans while in pursuit of suspected enemies of the United States shortly after the September 11 attacks.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist sought to dismiss the censure resolution against Bush with an immediate vote last week but was blocked by some Democrats who said the resolution needed to be at least debated.

Specter has questioned the legality of Bush’s surveillance program but has argued that censure is not justified.

In Senate comments last week, Specter noted that experts had disagreed about whether the president has the constitutional power to conduct the program without court warrants.

“When he (Feingold) comes to the resolve clause and speaks about censure and condemnation of President Bush, I think he is vastly excessive,” Specter said.

As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Feingold will have an opportunity at next week’s hearing to debate Specter.

The Wisconsin Democrat, traveling overseas, could not be reached for an immediate comment on Specter’s decision to hold a hearing, his office said.