'Sign of the apocalypse': Kucinich's Libya bill gets GOP support

One Democrat called it the "sign of the apocalypse."

An anti-war resolution authored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who spent years trying to impeach the last Republican president for prosecuting an illegal war, won more support from Republicans than Democrats on the House floor.

That was the case Friday as the House debated how to respond, belatedly, to President Obama’s military intervention in Libya. Kucinich’s resolution, which would mandate an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces absent congressional authorization, failed by a wide margin, 265-148, but it garnered votes from more than one-third of the Republican conference. Eighty-seven Republicans voted for the measure compared to 61 Democrats.

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Minutes earlier, a strong majority of the House, including all but 10 Republicans, endorsed a milder rebuke of the president in the form of a non-binding resolution offered by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). The Speaker’s bill chastised Obama for having “failed to provide a compelling rationale” for the Libya mission, and it demanded that the president report back to Congress within 14 days with information on the operation’s costs, goals, timeline and other matters.

At the heart of the debate over both measures was a desire by members in both parties, but especially Republicans, to express their dismay at Obama for not seeking congressional authorization for the military deployment or, in the opinion of many, consulting Congress at all.

“This resolution puts the president on notice,” Boehner said in a floor speech arguing for his bill over Kucinich’s proposal. “He has a chance to get this right.  If he doesn’t, Congress will exercise its constitutional authority and make it right.”

Boehner and the Republican leadership had to scramble this week to head off Kucinich’s resolution after they learned it might win enough votes to pass. Believing that an immediate withdrawal measure would go “too far” and undermine U.S. allies in NATO, Boehner drafted his own proposal aimed at siphoning GOP votes from Kucinich’s bill.

In the end, Boehner won all but 10 Republican votes and 45 from Democrats. But the most striking development was the stronger-than-expected Republican support for the Kucinich proposal. After drawing national recognition as one of President George W. Bush’s most aggressive liberal critics, Kucinich has arguably won as much floor time in a Republican majority as he did when his own party ruled the House. The Libya resolution marks the second time in the last three months that he has forced a vote on withdrawing American troops from a theater abroad.

On Friday his measure earned votes not only from traditional intervention skeptics like Reps. Ron Paul (Tex.) and Walter Jones (N.C.), but it also won over conservative hard-liner Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dave Camp (Mich.). Dozens of freshman Republicans supported Kucinich, including class president Rep. Austin Scott (Ga.) and two representatives on the leadership team, Reps. Kristi Noem (S.D.) and Tim Scott (S.C.).

Kucinich said he thought he won over Republicans by focusing more on the need for Congress to assert its Constitutional prerogative to declare war than on the wisdom of the mission itself. “Nowhere in this debate did I get into the merits or demerits of our involvement in Libya,” Kucinich told reporters after the vote. “I didn’t address this in a partisan way, and I still won’t address it in a partisan way.”

“I think the victory is in forcing the debate,” Kucinich added. “Because there wasn’t going to be a debate except for this resolution.”

Many of the freshman Republicans in particular had campaigned on a promise of strict adherence to constitutional principles, and Kucinich may have tapped into that sentiment. “The members that I talked to were concerned about the constitutional implications,” he said.

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The Ohio Democrat also said he thought the Democratic vote was depressed because of “strong appeals from the White House and the Democratic leadership.” While the White House criticized his resolution and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke out against it, House Democrats did not whip against the bill on the floor. Two members of the Democratic leadership, caucus chairman Rep. John Larson (Conn.) and vice chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.), voted yes.

Yet Democratic supporters of the president’s policy said GOP support for Kucinich was more about anger and opposition to Obama. The ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Howard Berman (Calif.), surmised that the GOP would not have been so sympathetic to Kucinich’s proposal “if its own party was in control of the executive branch.”

If nothing else, the votes on Friday represented a case of strange bedfellows and found one of the House’s most liberal members speaking in praise of the Republican Speaker.

“I think the Speaker has taken a stand for the institution,” Kucinich said, “and he may not have been ready to come as far as I wanted to go today, but we certainly took a step in the direction of accountability.”