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Capitol Democrats cool to Feingold's bid to censure Bush

Resist GOP effort to set Senate vote

WASHINGTON -- Democrats distanced themselves yesterday from Senator Russell D. Feingold's effort to censure President Bush over domestic spying, maneuvering to prevent a vote that could alienate swing voters.

Republicans dared Democrats to vote for the proposal.

''Some Democrats in Congress have decided the president is the enemy," Vice President Dick Cheney told a Republican audience in Feingold's state of Wisconsin.

Feingold, a potential presidential candidate, said on the Senate floor, ''The president has violated the law and Congress must respond."

''A formal censure by Congress is an appropriate and responsible first step to assure the public that when the president thinks he can violate the law without consequences, Congress has the will to hold him accountable," Feingold said.

Even as he spoke, Democratic leaders held off an immediate vote requested by the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist. Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said he didn't know whether there ever would be one.

Throughout the day, Feingold's fellow Democrats said they understood his frustration but they held back overt support for the resolution. Several said they wanted first to see the Senate Intelligence Committee finish an investigation of the warrantless wiretapping program that Bush authorized as part of his war on terrorism.

Asked at a news conference whether he would vote for the censure resolution, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, declined to endorse it and said he hadn't read it.

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, said he had not read it and was not inclined to scold the president.

''I'd prefer to see us solve the problem," Lieberman said.

Across the Capitol, reaction was similar. Feingold's censure resolution drew an acknowledgment but no outright support from House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi ''understands Senator Feingold's frustration that the facts about the NSA domestic surveillance program have not been disclosed appropriately to Congress," her office said in a statement.

''Both the House and the Senate must fully investigate the program and assign responsibility for any laws that may have been broken."

Feingold's resolution accuses Bush of violating the Constitution and the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The only president ever censured by the Senate was Andrew Jackson, in 1834, for removing the nation's money from a private bank in defiance of the Whig-controlled Senate.

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