The House of Representatives dealt a symbolic blow to President Obama on Friday by resoundingly failing to approve a bill authorizing the contentious military operations in Libya. But the House stopped short of a total desertion of a war-time president by also rejecting a measure to limit financing to support the military operations there.
The resolution to support the mission, which was based on a Senate measure introduced Tuesday by Senators John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and John McCain, Republican of Arizona, failed 295 to 123, with 70 Democrats joining Republicans on an issue that has divided Democrats and became a major Constitutional flash point between Congress and The White House. (See how all the members voted.) The Senate has yet to take up their measure.
A second measure, which would have prohibited money for military operations outside of support activities like search and rescue, aerial refueling, operational planning, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — essentially ending direct American combat activity like missile strikes — failed 180 to 238, with 89 Republicans deserting their party on the measure, and only 36 Democrats voting in favor of it. The measure, which had the support of Republican leadership, was intended to severely limit America’s role while not completely leaving NATO allies in the lurch.
The message – a bipartisan muddle – reflected both a nation weary of wars across party and geographic lines, and a Congress that dislikes having its powers usurped by the executive branch.
Over the last few months, there has been increasing hostility toward the Obama administration in the House among both Democrats who oppose the war and many Republicans who cite Constitutional issues over the president’s refusal to seek authorization from Congress for the operations in Libya. They say such authorization is required by the 1973 War Powers Resolution.
Under that law, presidents must terminate unauthorized deployments 60 days after notifying Congress that they have begun. If what the United States military is doing in Libya constitutes “hostilities” — the administration argues that it does not — then that deadline passed on May 20.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with scores of House Democrats and urged them to vote against the defunding resolution, insisting the collective effort in Libya was close to ousting the nation’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. In emphatic language, Mrs. Clinton warned them that a resolution to bar money for Libya would be disastrous to American interests in that war-torn nation, said some of the 60 or so Democrats who attended.
“The secretary was there to make the case on behalf of the administration on why they want to continue the war,” said Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, one of the attendees. He added: “It would appear inside the caucus that there is a split on this, and I think the fact that the secretary came over tells you a couple things. One, that the White House is very concerned about the vote, and second, that there is a sudden awareness that the fact that the administration has ignored Congress may carry with it a price.”
Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, said that while Mrs. Clinton “did a really good job of making the administration’s case,” Ms. Woolsey was ultimately not swayed to support the activities in Libya. “She did what the White House should have been doing all along, which is come to us, talk about the situation, tell us what their perspective is, and have a conversation,” Ms. Woolsey said.
A bipartisan group of representatives will also offer an amendment to a Pentagon appropriations bill, which may be voted on as early as Friday, which would further cut funding for intelligence and operational support in Libya, and end all activities by October. It is not clear how much support that measure would have if the more limited resolution offered by Mr. Rooney passes.
READ MORE LIBYA NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Libya Files