House rejects Libya authorization measure

In a rebuke to President Obama, the House on Friday rejected a resolution that would authorize continued military operations in Libya for one year.

The resolution, H.J.Res. 68, was expected to fail; it did so in a 123-295 vote that split Democrats more than it split Republicans.

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Among Democrats, 115 voted for it and 70 voted against it.

The Republican vote was more one-sided: only 8 voted for it, and 225 voted against.

After voting was complete, the lower chamber promptly began consideration of a bill that would limit funding for those operations.

Friday's votes are part of the escalating battle between Congress and the White House over the president's War Powers authority. House Republicans have argued the president needs authorization under the War Powers Act, while the administration claims the act hasn't been triggered because U.S. actions in Libya do not constitute "hostilities."

The rejection of authorized military operations, a measure based on a Senate resolution, came after a debate that seemed like the inverse of past debates about wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that took place under former President George W. Bush. Several Democrats took to the floor to support the ongoing military operations in Libya and cite the need to support U.S. NATO allies, while many Republicans argued this effort violates the Constitution and questioned whether there are any U.S. interests in Libya at all.

"U.S. military force is a very awesome thing and should only be employed in very select circumstances," Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said in support of the resolution. "We misused that power when it came to Iraq, and we used that power in an improper way, too long in Afghanistan.

"But when people are being slaughtered by dictators around the world, where massive losses of lives and innocents are at stake, I think it is appropriate for the United States to step up and protect those people," he said. Others mirrored this defense of what Obama has called a humanitarian mission in Libya that has broad international support.

"Today we are standing with those who believe in freedom, human rights and the rule of law," Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said.

"We can authorize the president to continue the limited use of United States services working in conduction with NATO today, so we can show that we're united with our allies," Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) added that Congress made a mistake in 1999 by not authorizing the use of force in Bosnia, and said that was a grave mistake that should not be repeated.

"Let us not repeat that mistake," he said. "Let us not repeat that message to our NATO allies, to our European allies, to all the world, that America cannot be counted on."

In contrast, several Republicans reiterated many of their arguments against the resolution by pointing out that the president never sought congressional authority, and that the U.S. cannot afford another war.

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House Foreign Relations Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said she does not support a total withdrawal from Libya, but said the resolution goes too far.

"I cannot support an authorization which constitutes our current level of engagement for an entire year," she said, adding that Obama has yet to offer a full explanation for the effort. "The president has yet to explain what American interests are at stake."

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said he opposes an authorization of forces because the administration plan seems to be based on the hope that Col. Moammar Gadhafi leaves Libya.

"I cannot support a long-term commitment of U.S. forces to hostilities when success is based on hope," he said. McKeon also said he objected to Obama's failure to seek congressional approval.

"It's not appropriate for this body to cover his lapse with a blanket authorization," he said.

Some members crossed parties. As expected, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) spoke out against continued authorization, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said he supports the ongoing mission in Libya.

"Now will we today pull the rug out from under them, simply because we have a dispute between the legislative and the executive branch?" Kinzinger asked.

Another Republican, Rep. Steve King (Iowa), said he agrees with Hoyer that the U.S. needs to stay involved in Libya. He said he supports the resolution even though he would prefer an authorization bill that is shorter than one year.

"This resolution says the Congress stands with the constitutional authority of the president to be commander in chief and to conduct our foreign policy," he said. "We should conduct our disagreement with the president domestically, not in our foreign policy, and not by limiting an activity that could abrogate our NATO treaty."


—This story was updated at 12:16 p.m. to reflect the vote.