By Russell Berman - 05/23/11 10:03 PM EDT
The House is expected to debate the U.S. military mission in Libya amid lingering complaints that the Obama administration lacks the legal authority to continue the operation.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) hinted Monday that a Libya resolution would be attached as an amendment to a defense authorization bill that the House will begin debating on Tuesday.
Whether the House debate would focus on a measure supportive or critical of the mission is unclear. Several members of the House, however, have introduced amendments that would restrict funding for the operation.
While Congress would be unlikely to vote down a resolution supporting a U.S. military mission, any measure of support is likely to face opposition from a group of liberals and conservatives who have said Obama erred by deploying the military without explicit congressional backing.
The administration did not seek congressional authorization in March when it began the Libya campaign. Under the War Powers Act of 1973, U.S. armed forces must be withdrawn after 60 days unless Congress authorizes the mission or declares war.
The 60-day deadline for the Libya campaign was reached Friday.
Obama’s letter to congressional leaders did not cite the War Powers Act or request a formal authorization, but said “congressional action in support of the mission would underline the U.S. commitment to this remarkable international effort.”
“Such a resolution is also important in the context of our constitutional framework, as it would demonstrate a unity of purpose among the political branches on this important national security matter,” Obama wrote. “It has always been my view that it is better to take military action, even in limited actions such as this, with congressional engagement, consultation and support.”
In his letter, the president noted that the operation had become “more limited” as NATO has assumed command, but he did not put a timeline on U.S. involvement.
Asked whether the House would pass a resolution of support, Cantor cited the defense authorization bill.
“We’re going to have a robust amendment process, and I would imagine that some of the issues that you asked about … would be discussed in the amendment process, and we’ll wait to see that unfold,” he said.
Aides said it was not yet known who would sponsor the resolution or whether it would match the Senate version being introduced by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
The Senate resolution introduced Monday says that the chamber “supports the limited use of military force by the United States in Libya as part of the NATO mission to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011), as requested by the Transitional National Council, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council.”
The resolution says that the Senate agrees that “the goal of United States policy in Libya, as stated by the president, is to achieve the departure from power of Moammar Gadhafi and his family, including through the use of non-military means, so that a peaceful transition can begin to an inclusive government that ensures freedom, opportunity and justice for the people of Libya.”
The measure calls on Obama to consult regularly with Congress on the mission and to submit “a description of United States policy objectives in Libya, both during and after Gadhafi’s rule, and a detailed plan to achieve them.”
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), a critic of the Libya mission, on Monday sent a letter to the White House asking Obama to seek explicit congressional authorization for the campaign.
Lugar called on officials to fulfill their commitment under the WPA to "respect the role of Congress with regard to our policy in Libya, including timely consultation on, and seeking authorization for, any continuation of U.S. military operations."
Pete Kasperowicz contributed. Last updated at 7:01 p.m.