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The Feingold Resolution and the Sound of Silence

Sen. Russell Feingold, center, confers with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, left, and Minority Whip Richard Durbin.
Sen. Russell Feingold, center, confers with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, left, and Minority Whip Richard Durbin. (By Jason Reed -- Reuters)

Henry was unsatisfied. "So do you support censure, or not?

Stabenow took another stab. "It needs to have hearings," she said.

Mary Landrieu (La.) pursed her lips. "Senator Feingold has a point that he wants to make," she said. "We have a point that we want to make, talking about the budget."

"Senators," an aide interrupted, "we need to go."

Next in the Senate TV gallery came Schumer. An aide hung up a poster showing a port. The senator called the ports situation "extremely troubling." The aide hung up a poster of an Exxon cartoon. "Obscene profits," decreed Schumer, equally passionately.

CNN's Henry asked the Feingold question. Schumer ended the news conference.

Outside the Democrats' lunch downstairs, the senators were similarly agile. The number two Democratic leader, Richard Durbin (Ill.), darted out of an elevator and into lunch when he thought nobody was looking.

"I haven't made any judgment," said Jeff Bingaman (N.M.). Two minutes later, he reappeared. "I will support an alternative that would call for an investigation," he amended.

The one Democrat happy to talk was Feingold, who, in a pre-lunch chat with reporters, seemed to enjoy his colleagues' squirms. "I'm concerned about the approach Democrats are taking, which is too often cowering," he said.

Feingold, seeking liberals' support for the 2008 presidential nomination, said he wasn't motivated by politics. But then he slipped. "If there's any Democrat out there who can't say . . . the president has no right to make up his own laws, I don't know if that Democrat really is the right candidate," he said of his likely primary opponents.

After an hour of closed-door negotiations, Democrats were no closer to resolving the Feingold rift.

"Most of us feel at best it's premature," announced Sen. Christopher Dodd (Conn.). "I don't think anyone can say with any certainty at this juncture that what happened is illegal."

Dodd must not have checked with Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa). "The president broke the law and he needs to be held accountable," he said. "Talk about high crimes and misdemeanors!" Harkin said he'll vote for the Feingold resolution -- if it comes up.

That gives Feingold two solid votes, including his own. The rest: avowedly undecided.

Schumer, leaving the lunch, still hadn't found his voice. " He's gonna talk about it," Schumer said, pointing to Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (Nev.).

Reporters, as instructed, asked Reid where he stood. "It's a question that's been asked 33 times in the last few hours," he said. "And so, for the 34th time, I'm going to say the same thing: I'm going to wait . . .''

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