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Sen. Russell Feingold rubs his eyes during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2006. (AP file photo)

A U.S. senator has put forward a resolution to censure President George W. Bush for ordering the wiretapping of some American phone conversations without a court warrant.

Senator Russell Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin, accused Bush on Monday of breaking the law and misleading the American public.

"A formal censure by Congress is an appropriate and responsible first step to assure the public that when the president thinks he can violate the law without consequences, Congress has the will to hold him accountable," Feingold said on the floor of the Senate.

The resolution calls on the Senate to condemn Bush's "unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans within the United States without obtaining the court orders required."

Symbolic move

The move is considered largely symbolic since the Senate is controlled by the Republicans and the motion has no chance of passing.

The five-page resolution accuses the president of violating the U.S. Constitution and the country's Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The only U.S. president ever censured by the Senate was Andrew Jackson in 1834.

The Senate tried in 1999 to censure Bill Clinton in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky affair, but the resolution failed to pass.

Last December, Americans learned of a secret domestic surveillance program conducted by the U.S. National Security Agency.

The revelation caused an uproar and triggered questions about limiting Bush's broad scope to govern.

Bush defended the program as a "vital tool" and said the spying was only on known operatives of al-Qaeda and its affiliates and only on communications going in and out of the U.S., not within the country.

"I re-authorized this program 30 times since 9/11 and I intend to do so as long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens, Bush said.

Feingold is considered a possible for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.

Cheney fights back

Bush made no comment directly on Monday's resolution.

But Vice-President Dick Cheney launched a blistering attack on the charges at a fundraising event in Wisconsin.

"The outrageous proposition that we ought to protect our enemies' ability to communicate as it plots against America poses a key test of our Democratic leaders," he said.

"Do they support the extreme and counterproductive antics of a few or do they support a lawful program vital to the security of this nation?"

In another development, a new opinion poll of Americans on the U.S.-led war in Iraq suggests the president's approval rating has hit a new low.

The USA Today/Gallup poll said concerns about the war have pushed Bush's approval rating down to 36 per cent.