News Intelligence Analysis
From the N. Y. Times
March 16, 2006
Call for Censure Is Rallying Cry to Bush's Base
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
WASHINGTON, March 15 Republicans, worried that their conservative base lacks motivation to turn out for the fall elections, have found a new rallying cry in the dreams of liberals about censuring or impeaching President Bush.
The proposal this week by Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, to censure Mr. Bush over his domestic eavesdropping program cheered the left. But it also dovetailed with conservatives' plans to harness such attacks to their own ends.
With the Republican base demoralized by continued growth in government spending, undiminished violence in Iraq and intramural disputes over immigration, some conservative leaders had already begun rallying their supporters with speculation about a Democratic rebuke to the president even before Mr. Feingold made his proposal.
"Impeachment, coming your way if there are changes in who controls the House eight months from now," Paul Weyrich, a veteran conservative organizer, declared last month in an e-mail newsletter.
The threat of impeachment, Mr. Weyrich suggested, was one of the only factors that could inspire the Republican Party's demoralized base to go to the polls. With "impeachment on the horizon," he wrote, "maybe, just maybe, conservatives would not stay at home after all."
For weeks, Republicans have taken to conservative Web sites and talk radio shows to inveigh against the possibility, however remote, that Democrats could impeach Mr. Bush if they gained control of Congress. Mr. Feingold's censure proposal fell far short of a demand for impeachment. Most Democrats in the Senate distanced themselves from it, concerned that they would be tagged by Republicans as soft on terrorism. But the censure proposal provided Republicans an opening.
"This is such a gift," the conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh told listeners on his syndicated radio program on Monday, saying the Democrats were fulfilling his predictions. "They have to go back to this impeachment thing," he said.
The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, a conservative standard-bearer, echoed the thought. "We'd like to congratulate the Wisconsin Democrat on his candor," its editors wrote Wednesday in a column headlined "The Impeachment Agenda." The Republican National Committee sent the editorial out to its e-mail list of 15 million supporters.
Brian Jones, a Republican spokesman, said the e-mail messages generated a higher response than anything the party had sent in several months, including bulletins about the Supreme Court confirmations.
"Clearly on our side it is something that is energizing our base a little bit," Mr. Jones said.
"This is not about getting things done," he added. "This is raw partisan politics."In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Feingold declined to rule out supporting impeachment in the future, saying that the wiretapping "probably is the kind of thing the founding fathers thought of as high crimes and misdemeanors."
But Mr. Feingold also said he proposed the milder rebuke of censure instead of impeachment in part because of the context of the war and in part to avoid a political backlash from Mr. Bush's supporters.
"They can try to turn this into their fantasy, but that is not how this comes off," Mr. Feingold said, noting that his proposal addressed only the narrow subject of the wiretapping program. "I didn't throw in Iraq or a lot of other things that frankly are pretty bad."
Still, conservatives said they welcomed the debate over censure or impeachment. Some said they were especially pleased with the timing of Mr. Feingold's proposal because it came just after the Democrats had upstaged the Republicans on national security during the outcry over an Arab company's takeover of several port terminals in the United States.
"They finally found the issue where they could convince the American people that they, too, see an enemy," Mr. Limbaugh said on his radio program.
"In less than two days they are back to the N.S.A. scandal as though we don't have a national security problem," he said, referring to the domestic eavesdropping program run by the National Security Agency.
Mr. Feingold responded at a press conference today, saying he doubted that lawbreaking by the President would hold up as a winning issue for Republicans. "If they think that," he said of Mr. Limbaugh and other conservative commentators, "it seems to me that they're as confused about this as they are about their Iraq policy."
In playing up the impeachment threat, conservatives have forged an alliance of sorts with the most liberal wing of the Democratic Party, where the idea has bounced around since the invasion of Iraq failed to find the banned weapons that the administration had described before the war.
Last year, Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee and a member of the panel when it weighed proceedings against President Richard M. Nixon in 1974, proposed an initial inquiry into a censure or impeachment of Mr. Bush over the war. So far, the Conyers proposal has attracted support from about two dozen of the chamber's 201 Democrats.
ImpeachPAC, a grass-roots group based in New York City that grew out of the last election, is agitating for the idea. In the last few months, local governments in San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Arcata, Calif., and in several towns in Vermont have passed resolutions calling for impeachment. Harper's Magazine, the writer Garrison Keillor, the former Watergate figure John Dean, Barbra Streisand and the actor Richard Dreyfuss have expressed their support as well.
But other Democrats, mindful of the drubbing Republicans took over the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, have stepped carefully to avoid irking their most ardent supporters without endorsing the call for charges against Mr. Bush.
Asked recently about whether she would support a call for impeachment by her city, San Francisco, Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, demurred.
"I have a full-time job here," Ms. Pelosi said. "But I will say this: Elections have ramifications. If they don't like the policies of our country, I encourage everyone to mobilize to change who is in power in Washington."
Few lawmakers in either party think there is much chance of impeachment even if the Democrats do take the House. Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, called the idea "not realistic" but nonetheless useful. "It shows people how extreme the leaders of the Democrat Party actually are," Mr. Forti said.
With that in mind, Republicans have done what they can to amplify the liberals' talk. Three days after Mr. Weyrich warned that the possibility of impeachment was one of the few reasons for conservatives to go to the polls, the Cybercast News Service, a part of the conservative Media Research Center that provides material for talk radio hosts, reported that Mr. Dreyfuss had said in a speech at the National Press Club that impeaching Mr. Bush was a "cause worth fighting for."
Conservative Web sites and talk radio programs have lavished attention on the impeachment resolutions in California and Vermont for weeks, and for three days the Republican Party has sent radio hosts news bulletins suggesting Mr. Feingold's unpopular censure proposal actually revealed the true intent of his party. "Dem leaders support Feingold's folly," one headline read.
Mr. Weyrich, for his part, acknowledged that the prospect of impeachment seemed far-fetched at the moment. "It looked bizarre, too, when Father Robert F. Drinan and a handful of others, such as John Conyers Jr. in 1972 similarly were planning for the impeachment of President Nixon," he wrote in his newsletter. "When the moment of truth came, they were ready."
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