Advice and Consent

Article excerpt

Senator Russ Feingold had hoped the Senate Democratic leadership would challenge George W. Bush's decision to withdraw the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. At the least, he had expected senior Democratic senators with track records on arms control to defend the agreement between the United States and Russia that since 1972 has underpinned efforts to curb the arms race. In a Senate where Democrats are still hypercautious about questioning the Bush White House on defense issues, however, Feingold stood alone.

"I wanted the leadership to take a lead. But when we contacted [majority leader Tom] Daschle's office, they just weren't interested," said the Wisconsin Democrat. Feingold knew that meant it would be impossible to get the Senate to block withdrawal from a treaty it had approved 88 to 2 in 1972. Still, he said, "I did not want the Senate to be silent on this." Three days before the June 13 expiration of the treaty, Feingold, chairman of the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution, rose on the Senate floor to remind his colleagues of the constitutional requirement that decisions regarding treaties be made by the President "with the advice and consent of the Senate" and of the Founders' intent--as explained in Thomas Jefferson's Manual of Parliamentary Practice: For the Use of the Senate of the United States--that "Treaties being declared, equally with the laws of the United States, to be the supreme law of the land, it is understood that an act of the legislature alone can declare them infringed and rescinded."

"It is clear to me, Mr. President, as it was to Thomas Jefferson, that Congress has a constitutional role to play in terminating treaties," Feingold declared. "If advice and consent of the Senate is required to enter into a treaty, this body should at a minimum be consulted on withdrawing from a treaty, and especially from a treaty of this magnitude, the termination of which could have lasting implications on the arms control and defense policy of this country. …