House ignores Obama's Libya request

House leaders are ignoring a request from President Obama for a congressional endorsement of the U.S. military mission in Libya.

Five days after Obama sent a letter to congressional leaders seeking a resolution of support, there has been no action in the House, and aides in both parties say there are no plans to bring legislation to the floor.

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The response in the lower chamber marks a striking contrast with the Senate, where a bipartisan group of foreign policy heavyweights have signed on to a resolution backing the Libya campaign. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he expects a vote next month on the measure, which is sponsored by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).

A companion measure has not been introduced in the House, and in the two months since Obama launched the operation, only one of the chamber’s 435 members, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), has signed onto a resolution supporting the mission. A spokeswoman for Rohrabacher said Wednesday that his measure was in “a holding pattern.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said earlier this week that the Libya mission would be debated through amendments to the defense authorization bill currently on the floor, but the only amendments on Libya that lawmakers offered sought to criticize or to restrict the mission. With minimal debate, the House on a voice vote Wednesday adopted an amendment from conservative Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) that stated explicitly that “nothing in the [Defense] bill... shall be construed to authorize military operations in Libya.”

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), said the White House has not asked him to sponsor a resolution and that it was up to the Republicans, who hold the majority, to take the lead.

“At this point, the majority has not indicated that they have a plan to bring anything up,” Smith said in an interview. “I think we should. I would be supportive of the Senate resolution. I think it’s important that we do that.

“Part of the reason that we haven’t introduced anything is that with something like this, we would like to have bipartisan support,” Smith said. “We would like something that would move through the process, and in that sense, the majority does control whether that happens.”

A White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, had no comment, but he reiterated that the president “supports congressional action.”

In his letter last Friday, Obama said “congressional action in support of the mission would underline the U.S. commitment to this remarkable international effort.”

When Obama sent the letter, Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said Republican leaders had not seen a draft of the resolution and would discuss it with their members. The actual Senate resolution was not introduced until late Monday.

Two senior Democratic aides said the GOP was unlikely to touch the issue.

“It has been communicated to us that the Republican leadership has no interest in having this come to the floor,” one aide said.

Boehner’s office declined to respond.

House tensions with the administration over Libya stem from the outset of the mission, when Boehner, along with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, criticized the White House for insufficient consultation with Congress. Members in both parties accused the administration of acting outside of its war-powers authority, and those criticisms have grown louder in the last week with the passage of the 60-day mark on the mission. Under the War Powers Act of 1973, armed forces must be withdrawn after 60 days without authorization or a declaration of war from Congress.

With Moammar Gadhafi still in power and fears of a prolonged stalemate growing, there appears to be little appetite among House members for a full-throated endorsement of U.S. military involvement.

One Republican who initially was a strong backer of Obama’s intervention, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), said he would not vote for a resolution supporting the mission now because the 60 days of authority had expired.

Obama did not cite the War Powers Act or ask for explicit authorization in his letter. The president wrote that the resolution he wanted “would demonstrate a unity of purpose among the political branches on this important national security matter.”

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“It has always been my view,” Obama wrote, “that it is better to take military action, even in limited actions such as this, with congressional engagement, consultation and support.”

The president noted the operation had become “more limited” as NATO has assumed command, but he did not say how long U.S. involvement would last.

The Senate resolution says 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 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.”


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