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Sen. Russ Feingold: Dems Platform on Iraq a “Mistake”

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One person who was not invited to speak at the DNC was U.S. Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, the only US Senator to vote against the USA Patriot Act. Both John Kerry and John Edwards voted for the Patriot Act. We caught up with Feingold on the floor of the convention as Al Sharpton was addressing the delegates. [includes rush transcript]

  • Sen. Russ Feingold, (D-WI)

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We went inside, the convention began and after a few hours we actually did find Russ Feingold. He had just walked in. Senator from Wisconsin shaking hands with the Wisconsin delegation. Senator Feingold, the only senator to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act. Both Senators Kerry and Edwards voted for the act. We caught up with Feingold just as he was making his way to his seat and as we spoke to him, pulled him aside, though you can’t do much asides on the convention floor, which is absolutely packed with the voices booming from the podium, in this case, it was Reverend Sharpton’s booming, but we did get in this conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: Why aren’t you speaking at this convention?

RUSS FEINGOLD: I’m not speaking at the convention.


RUSS FEINGOLD: Nobody asked me to and I’m busy running for re-election in Wisconsin. I’m focusing on health care and jobs in Wisconsin, and I got to speak at the last two conventions so I am happy to let somebody else have the stage.

AMY GOODMAN: You are the only senator who voted against the USA PATRIOT Act. A lot of people feel that the unity at the convention is at the expense of strong statements against the USA PATRIOT Act, even though the overwhelming majority of delegates are against it. Your thoughts on that.

RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, I regret that the Democratic platform says that the USA PATRIOT Act was something that was ok. If it means that it’s ok as long as changes are made, that’s different. The fact is there’s a broad group of democrats that want to change the USA PATRIOT Act, including John Kerry who has signed on to the Safe Act, which is a bill that would basically take the amendments that I wanted to the USA PATRIOT Act and put them into law. So I have to give Senator Kerry credit. But even though he voted for the bill, he’s acknowledged that there are serious flaws in it. The Bush Administration claims that there’s nothing wrong with the PATRIOT Act. The fact is, the PATRIOT Act is a terrible intrusion into the rights of every American. And so there’s a much better possibility that would change the PATRIOT Act with the Kerry/Edwards ticket than we ever would with another Bush Administration. But the Democratic Party made a very serious mistake a couple of years ago when it did not change the PATRIOT Act. And we are paying for it now.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think are the key provisions to change?

RUSS FEINGOLD: Well there are a number of them. One is the business records provision, which also includes the ability of the government to get access to your library records without any proof that you have done anything wrong at all. Another provision that has to be changed are the so-called sneak-and-peek provisions, that allows the government to come in, search your house and not give you notice for months and months. I think that’s a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. There’s also a provision that doesn’t get enough publicity but allows monitoring people’s computer usage when they have done absolutely nothing that’s either related to terrorism or criminal conduct. These are outrageous provisions that even Bob Novak said was a wish list of the FBI. So I am determined to change those provisions and we are getting enormous support from the right and the left and the middle. This is a seriously flawed bill that has to be changed.

AMY GOODMAN: So why do you think the democratic leadership will not support this?

RUSS FEINGOLD: I think many people in the democratic leadership will support the changes. Many of the provisions sunset, and I believe that we will get a majority, combining democrats and republicans. The other day, there was almost a majority in the House to change the provisions, anyway. So it’s going to be a bipartisan rejection of this extreme legislation. I am optimistic that we will change it. But it never should have gone into law in the first place.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Feingold, why didn’t you support the Congressional Black delegation, the Congressional Black Caucus when they requested senators second a recount in Florida?

RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, the film is distorted in that regard. That didn’t happen in November. That happened in January after our candidate, Al Gore, asked us to stop. Our nominee said, “Please stop.” And so I respected my nominee’s wishes. But I agree with the Black Caucus, the way that election was conducted is deeply disturbing and the results are obvious. But the candidate asked all of us not to do it and every one of us from Paul Wellstone to Ted Kennedy to Barbara Boxer, none of us did that because Al Gore asked us not to.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the rationale? What was his rationale?

RUSS FEINGOLD: The country had finished the election because the Supreme Court had ruled. As disturbing as the ruling was and as troubling as the ruling was, our system of government still requires finality. And our candidate, whom we respected, said it has to stop.

AMY GOODMAN: Final question. In the same way—in the same way the platform—in the same way that the platform doesn’t come out against the USA PATRIOT Act, it does not make a clear statement against war.

RUSS FEINGOLD: I think that’s a mistake. I think the war was a mistake. I think the platform should say that the war was a mistake because everyone knows it was a mistake. So I am a proud Democrat. I’m for Kerry and Edwards, but I know the war in Iraq was a serious mistake.

AMY GOODMAN: Is that why you aren’t speaking?

RUSS FEINGOLD: I don’t think so.

AMY GOODMAN: Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold speaking on the convention floor in conversation, not at the podium. Reverend Al Sharpton was at the podium.

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