Author: Sylvia Burley
They say politics make strange bedfellows and today’s vote on Libya shows that adage has never been truer. A coalition of anti-war Democrats and tea party-backed Republicans voted down a measure which would have given President Barack Obama the authority to continue the U.S. military action against Libya. The vote was 295-123.
Friday’s vote has no immediate effect on American involvement but is seen as a repudiation of the commander-in-chief. The House also considered competing measures to either continue the operation or cut off funds for military attacks.
House Republican leaders pushed for the vote with rank-and-file members saying the president broke the law by failing to seek congressional approval for the 3-month-old war.
Under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, Presidents must seek congressional consent for military actions within 60 days. Supposedly House Republicans and Democrats are furious with Obama for failing to seek this authorization, even though the law has been routinely ignored by both Republican and Democratic presidents.
“We have drifted into an apparently open-ended commitment with goals vaguely defined,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, as Democrats and Republicans criticized the mission and Obama’s treatment of Congress.
“What? We don’t have enough wars going on,” Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio., asked mockingly. “We need one more war. We have to wage war against another nation that didn’t attack us.”
Obama made many in congress upset when he told lawmakers he didn’t need authorization because the operation was not full-blown hostilities. While NATO commands the Libya operation, the United States still plays a significant support role that includes aerial refueling of warplanes and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance work as well as drone attacks and bombings.
A New York Times report that said Obama overruled some of his legal advisers further incensed members of Congress.
At a closed door meeting requested by the administration, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with rank-and-file Democrats to explain the mission and discuss the implications if the House votes to cut off funds.
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., said Clinton apologized for not coming to Congress earlier, but he said she warned about the implications of a House vote to cut off money.
“The secretary expressed her deep concern that you’re probably not on the right track when Gadhafi supports your efforts,” Walz said.
Rep. Howard Berman of California, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said such a vote “ensures the failure of the whole mission”.
Earlier this week Clinton said lawmakers were free to raise questions, but she asked, “Are you on Gadhafi’s side, or are you on the side on the aspirations of the Libyan people and the international coalition that has been bringing them support?”
In the Senate, backers of a resolution to authorize the operation wondered whether the administration had waited too long to address the concerns of House members.
“It’s way late,” said Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee. “This is one of the reasons why they’re having this veritable uprising in the House, because of a lack of communication. And then the icing on the cake was probably for them when he (Obama) said that we’re not engaged in hostilities. That obviously is foolishness.”
He added, however, “That is not a reason to pass a resolution that would encourage Moammar Gadhafi to stay in power.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider a resolution on Tuesday giving Obama limited authority to continue the American involvement in the NATO-led operation against Moammar Gadhafi’s forces.
A bill to cut off funds would make an exception for search and rescue efforts, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, aerial refueling and operational planning to continue the NATO effort in Libya, but is seen as having no chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
“The president has ignored the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution, but he cannot ignore a lack of funding,” said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., sponsor of the bill. “Only Congress has the power to declare war and the power of the purse, and my bill exercises both of those powers by blocking funds for the war in Libya unless the president receives congressional authorization.”
Earlier this month, the House voted 268-145 to rebuke Obama for failing to provide a “compelling rationale” for the Libyan mission and for launching U.S. military forces without congressional approval.
Friday’s vote marks the first time since 1999 that either House has voted against a military operation. The last time was over President Bill Clinton’s authority in the Bosnian war.
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