Kerry, McCain lay down resolution to authorize U.S. military force in Libya

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) pleaded for support Tuesday for their resolution authorizing limited U.S. engagement in the NATO air campaign against Libya. 

The senators’ resolution comes as members from both parties in the House are considering legislation that could limit the mission, or possibly cut off funding. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), among others, has criticized President Obama for violating the War Powers Resolution, which requires the president to seek congressional authorization for military actions.

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In comments on the Senate floor, McCain argued that his colleagues should look beyond the swirling controversy over constitutional authority and legality and focus on the humanitarian aspect of the mission, which he said had thwarted Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s vow to kill protesters “house to house.”

“Is this the time to ride to the rescue of a failing tyrant when the writing is on the wall that he will collapse?” asked McCain, directing his remarks to members of both chambers. 

“Amid all of our arguments over prudence, legality and constitutionality of the administration’s policy in Libya, we cannot forget the main point … the United States and our allies took action and prevented the massacre that Gadhafi had promised to commit,” said McCain.

McCain made it clear he thinks the White House is acting outside the War Powers Resolution, however. 

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He said Obama’s claim that the military’s engagement did not trigger the War Powers Resolution because the action did not amount to “hostilities” was a “confusing breach of common sense.” Obama had shown “disregard for the elected representatives of the American people” by not coming to Congress to seek permission for the action, McCain said.

“I find it hard to swallow that U.S. armed forces dropping bombs and killing enemy personnel in a foreign country does not amount to a state of hostilities,” said McCain.

Both Kerry and McCain pointed out their resolution prohibits the president from using ground troops in the conflict, something Obama himself has said he does not plan to do.

Kerry said perceptions of the U.S. would be damaged if Congress turns against the Libya military action.

“This is about what America stands for,” said Kerry. “Are we willing to stand up for our values and protect our interests? Are we willing to support the legitimate aspirations of the people of Libya?”

It is unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will schedule a vote on the resolution.