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Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) on Wednesday left open the possibility that Sen. Russ Feingold’s (D-Wis.) bill to censure President Bush could get its day before the full Senate, a move certain to ignite an intense partisan showdown with election-year stakes.
Specter said he doesn’t know how the controversial resolution will play out before his Judiciary Committee, but suggested it could be brought to the floor under a rare procedural move. The panel could vote to defeat the bill, but send it to the floor anyway with an unfavorable recommendation.
“I think this one may well be the exception” to regular order, Specter said. “We’ll have a hearing on it. We’ll take in do course what the committee action will be.”
Feingold’s motion seeks to censure President Bush for authorizing what the Wisconsin Democrat believes is an illegal domestic wiretapping program and then misleading the public about its existence. The highly charged measure has given Republicans a new rallying cry against Democrats even as the minority claims to be making headway with the public on national security matters.
The Judiciary Committee is expected to hold a hearing on Feingold’s bill Friday. Specter reiterated Wednesday that he plans to keep to that schedule, despite some suggestion earlier in the week that it might be postponed.
“Friday is a work day for me,” Specter said. “I’ll be here. We’ll have a hearing.”
Feingold said Wednesday he still believes censuring Bush over the wiretapping program is “a modest approach to a very serious constitutional crisis.” He said he is ready for the hearing, and would welcome floor consideration even if it comes without the backing of the Judiciary panel, but noted “It is an unusual step.”
A Senate GOP aide said: “Certainly this is an issue where all Senators should go on record.”
Only two other Senators, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), have signed on to the bill so far.
Many Democrats have argued the move is premature, especially at a time when the Senate is seeking to fully investigate the surveillance program. Privately, some also fear the bill goes to far and could curb Democrats’ momentum to make gains as Republicans drop in the polls.
Feingold said that even if his bill doesn’t advance this year, he’s not going to give up: “If censure doesn’t succeed this time, we’ll come back again next year.”