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By DAVID LIGHTMAN, Hartford Courant
WASHINGTON -- Rep. John B. Larson says he "could be persuaded" to vote to censure or even impeach President Bush. But first, the 1st District Democrat wants to know more about Bush's domestic wiretapping. He wants answers about the Iraq war.
Punishing the president was the main topic of discussion in the halls of Congress and at press conferences Tuesday, dwarfing attempts by legislative budget-writers to call attention to a day full of votes on 2007 spending.
Democrats - tantalized by the prospect of taking bold action against an increasingly unpopular president - proceeded cautiously but deliberately, knowing they could seem strident.
"It is premature. You want to be smart about this," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn. "First we have to determine if the president has done something wrong."
Most agreed to wait to see what the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will now consider the censure proposal, will do. After a closed-door meeting with Senate Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., endorsed hearings that would probe whether Bush broke the law when he authorized the wiretaps against domestic targets without court authorization.
Democrats are considering two initiatives. In the House, 30 Democrats, none from Connecticut, are co-sponsoring a resolution seeking Bush's impeachment, a measure first proposed last year, which is expected to go nowhere. In the Senate, Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., triggered this week's round of debate by introducing a measure to censure Bush.
Feingold challenged fellow Democrats to get tough with Bush. "Democrats sometimes cower," he said. "As soon as the administration warns people not to be soft on terrorism, Democrats just hide."
He accused many colleagues of doing the same again. Virtually no one would publicly say they unequivocally backed Feingold's effort, though most expressed interest in learning more.
"I'm uneasy about arriving at a conclusion at this point," Dodd said.
House members were also tentative but eager to know more. "There should be an investigation into the domestic eavesdropping program to determine if the Constitution was violated. And if it was, then we can deal with the appropriate sanctions," said Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3rd District.
Less eager for a probe was Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., who said he would rather work out how to authorize surveillance in a reasonable way. "Couldn't [members of Congress] get in a room together and figure out a way to do it?" he said.
But many other Democrats say the Feingold initiative could ignite more pointed discussion about Bush's actions - not only whether he acted properly in authorizing the wiretaps but his conduct of the war.