House members surprised with who voted how on Libya mission votes

House lawmakers surprised themselves on Friday with the outcome of a vote to limit the funding for U.S. forces involved in fighting in Libya. 

Typically known to vote and dash on the last vote of the week – especially before a weeklong recess – members remained planted on the House floor Friday to watch how their colleagues voted on the more aggressive of two measures meant to rebuke President Obama over Libya. 

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They appeared mesmerized by the tally board on the front wall of the chamber, scanning the list of names lighting up lawmakers cast their votes and unlikely alliances were minted with each green-lighted Y and red-lighted N.

Liberal Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and conservative Republicans – such as Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (Calif.) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) – were among the first to cast “yes” votes. 

Equally diverse and influential lawmakers such as Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) were among the early voters with an “N” next to their names. 

House GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made a point of emphasizing that Republican members were not whipped to vote for or against the measure offered by sophomore Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) that would restrict the role the U.S. troops play in the ongoing NATO-led mission in Libya. 

“This was not a whipped vote at all,” McCarthy told reporters of the Rooney resolution. 

In fact, his handpicked Chief Deputy Whip Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) stood on the floor during the 15-minute vote, looking at the board, before he inserted his voting card to oppose the measure that his fellow GOP leaders supported. 

Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s appearance before a scarcely attended Democratic caucus meeting on Thursday couldn’t help the administration’s attempts to sway the party to support an earlier measure to grant limited authority to the president to support NATO in the Libya mission. That measure failed in the House also.

House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) short speech on the House floor, in which he called Rooney’s resolution to allow continued U.S. involvement in search and rescue, intelligence, aerial refueling and operational planning a “reasonable approach,” failed to change many minds in his own conference. 

Eighty-nine House Republicans joined 149 Democrats to ultimately defeat Rooney’s measure, in a vote of 283-180. 

Thirty-six House Democrats, including outspoken liberal Reps. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) and John Conyers (Mich.), joined 144 House Republicans in support of the measure. 

As debate over Rooney’s amendment unfolded in the early afternoon, it was clear that neither party whipped their rank-and-file members to vote one way or the other. 

Diametrically opposed members such as conservative Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) discovered allies in each other on the issue. 

During the debate, the top-ranking Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee applauded McClintock’s position, cutting down a speech given moments earlier by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio.) 

“The Speaker of the House has made some very legitimate points, but then his conclusion is so contrary to the points he made, the proposition before us today – Mr. McClintock is right - it is authorization of a series of acts of belligerence, acts of war,” Berman charged, as Boehner watched on from the back of the chamber. 

Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), a top-ranking Republican on the appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department, said the Rooney vote was “really strange.”

Cole, who opposed the measure, chalked it up to an incoherent policy. 

“You have an incoherent vote because you have an incoherent policy and an incoherent process, and that’s the president’s fault,” Cole told The Hill. 

Cole echoed the frustration that many lawmakers have felt since the first week Congress returned from recess in March following a surprise announcement that the U.S. was involved in the Libya mission.

Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) – who voted for the Rooney resolution – explained that liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to get congressional authority to take part in the Libya actions during a closed-door briefing on the Hill. 

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“And Mrs. Clinton shared that they were in full compliance with the War Powers resolution and didn’t need to get one,” Davis said. 

Since then the administration has continued to deny its need to get congressional authority to involve U.S. forces in the NATO led Libya mission. 

McCarthy told reporters that an earlier vote taken on Friday, denying the administration the authority to participate in the Libya operation was the true symbol of congressional opposition to the president’s actions. That resolution was soundly defeated 295-123. 

The California lawmaker pointed out that like-minded individuals on the Libya matter, such as Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Ron Paul (R-Texas), voted against each other on the Rooney resolution. 

“Even though they believe the same thing, they voted separate on this; so the first vote is the vote that matters the most in sending a message,” McCarthy said.