House rebukes Obama on Libya

The House on Friday approved a resolution from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that scolds the Obama administration for failing to seek congressional authority under the War Powers Act for military operations in Libya. 

The resolution demands more information about the scope, cost and duration of the intervention. Members rejected a similar Democratic resolution that would have required the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Libya within 15 days.

The House accepted Boehner’s resolution in a 268-145 vote. Forty-five Democrats joined all but 10 Republicans in favor of the measure.

In a 148-265 vote, the House rejected a resolution from Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). In this vote, 144 Republicans and 121 Democrats voted against the measure; it was supported by 87 Republicans and 61 Democrats.

Support for Boehner’s resolution was never really in doubt, as it was developed in large part to provide a less drastic alternative to Kucinich’s increasingly popular language. Several members noted they would vote for both resolutions, and saw them as compatible.

But in putting forward the Boehner resolution, Republicans were forced to acknowledge that they largely support ongoing military action in Libya, despite their complaints about Presidennt Obama’s failure to consult Congress. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) described these competing issues during the debate: “We must not let our frustration with the president’s contempt for Congress cloud our judgment and result in our taking action that would harm our standing, our credibility and our interests in the region.”

Boehner took to the floor early in the debate to argue that the U.S. does in fact have security interests in Libya that are being addressed by a military presence.

“In my view, the gentleman’s resolution goes too far,” Boehner said of Kucinich’s proposal. “We may have differences regarding how we got here, but we cannot turn backs on our troops and our NATO partners who have stuck by us over the last 10 years.”

Boehner’s resolution drew some criticism from Democrats, who argued that it dodged the question of whether Congress should authorize a limited military mission in Libya or order a troop withdrawal.

“If the members of the House choose to pass the Speaker’s ‘one-chamber’ resolution, it should add one finding, that we declare ourselves to be one big, constitutionally created potted plant,” House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Howard Berman (D-Calif.) said.

Berman’s “one chamber” comment reflects Democratic complaints that Boehner’s bill was not designed as a concurrent resolution that the Senate would also take up. Democrats argued that Kucinich’s resolution would at least carry more weight if it were approved by the Senate, and said the Obama administration could choose to largely ignore Boehner’s proposal.

The fate of Kucinich’s resolution was more of a mystery, especially given how it split the parties during debate. Kucinich, who controlled half of the debate time, trotted out several Republicans who spoke in favor of his resolution, including presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

“We took an oath of office to obey the Constitution, not defer to the United Nations,” Paul said, referring to Obama’s argument that the U.N. supported intervention in Libya. “I would also suggest that if we do nothing, if we do not pass this resolution, it is the sin of omission that we commit.”

“The president should not have done this, and the only legislation that really deals with the problem today is the Kucinich resolution,” said Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.). Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) also supported the Kucinich language, stating that while Boehner’s resolution notes Obama has failed to comply with the War Powers Resolution, it fails to offer any remedy other than a requirement to answer questions.

Other Republicans speaking in favor of Kucinich’s resolution were Reps. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Walter Jones (N.C.), Tom McClintock (Calif.), Ted Poe (Texas), and Steve Southerland (Fla.).

Kucinich closed the debate by saying Congress has to address Obama’s violation of the Constitution or risk future violations.

“If Congress does not challenge a president’s dismissal of the clear meaning of Article I section 8, then we will have tacitly endorsed a president’s violation of the Constitution, and guaranteed the perpetuation of future constitutional transgressions,” he said.

A small but powerful group of Democrats downplayed the constitutional aspects of the issue during the debate, and played up security issues. Berman was one of these, and used many of the same arguments against the Kucinich proposal that Ros-Lehtinen used.

“We need to give the president more time to pursue this mission,” Berman said. “To do otherwise would be to alienate our allies, to damage our regional interests, and once again to invite a horrible massacre of Libyan civilians.”

Berman added that voting to withdraw now would only embolden dictators everywhere. “Hang in there for a few weeks, Mr. Dictator, we’ll go away,” Berman said.

Other Democrats speaking against it were House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Defense.

Tags Adam Smith Boehner Jason Chaffetz Jeff Flake John Boehner Ted Poe

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