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House Sends Obama A Message On Libya (UPDATED)


The U.S. House of Representatives sent President Barack Obama a mixed message today by voting to deny symbolic congressional authorization to U.S. military operations in the NATO mission in Libya but defeating an attempt to cut off funding.

The anger many in Congress feel over Obama's unilateral decision to use military force against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi peaked with a vote of 295-123 to defeat a resolution authorizing U.S. military involvement in the campaign for one year. Most Republicans and 70 members of Obama's own Democratic Party voted against the resolution, sending a strong signal to the White House that the president does not have the full support of Congress for his decision to use U.S. military force in what many are calling a civil war.

But just moments later, lawmakers voted 238-180 to defeat a second resolution that sought to cut off funding for operations like drone attacks and bombings in the North African country. The measure, which had the support of Republican House leaders, would have only allowed Washington to continue to participate in NATO operations like search and rescue, intelligence and surveillance, reconnaissance, aerial refueling, and operational planning.

In other words, it was aimed at keeping Washington's toe in the NATO mission, but nothing more.

Many members of Congress believe the White House is in violation of the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which requires the president to ask Congress for the authority to send U.S. military forces into foreign operations within 60 days of doing so.

Such a timetable would have required Obama to send a request to Congress by May 20. Instead, in mid-June, the White House sent a 38-page report to lawmakers defending the president's right to continue U.S. operations without their consent.

The White House position is that Obama does not need congressional authorization because the NATO mission to protect Libyan civilians and push Qaddafi from power "[does] not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor [does it] involve U.S. ground troops."

In a joint interview with "The New York Times," State Department legal advisor Harold H. Koh and White House counsel Robert Bauer said the administration is "acting lawfully."

That same story reported that in making his decision, Obama had overruled some of his legal advisers -- a detail that reportedly deepened the anger in Congress. As a rule, Congress doesn't like it when the president doesn't seek its authority for foreign military operations.

So it wasn't surprising that multiple resolutions were introduced in the House and Senate seeking to impose authority over the White House. There's also bipartisan support for a lawsuit filed by Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) that says Obama acted illegally.

The White House has acknowledged that the first two months of U.S. operations in Libya cost $716 million and that, by September, that tab will have risen to $1.1 billion.

With budget negotiations at an impasse and Republican members under intense pressure from voters to cut billions in spending, the defunding measure had the support of Republican Party leadership, including House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), who said this week: "I just believe that because of the president's failure to consult with the Congress, failure to outline for the American people why we were doing this before we engaged in this puts us in the position where we have to defend our responsibility under the Constitution."

The White House was concerned enough to send U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Hill on June 23 to try to convince House Democrats not to vote to defund U.S. operations. Reports said several lawmakers did not attend the meeting, either over their opposition to U.S. involvement in Libya or because of scheduling conflicts.

(On June 22, Clinton briefly addressed the anger in Congress when she asked of members who would end U.S. involvement, "Are you on Qaddafi'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?")

One of the meeting's participants, Representative Tim Walz (Minnesota), said Clinton had apologized for not meeting with Congress earlier but warned lawmakers not to vote for the defunding measure.

"The secretary expressed her deep concern that you're probably not on the right track when Qaddafi supports your efforts," he said.

--Heather Maher
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