House Approves Resolution Chiding Obama On Libya

The House voted Friday on two resolutions addressing concern that President Obama has not sought congressional approval for military operations in Libya. One sponsored by Speaker John Boehner says the president has not given Congress a compelling rationale for the operations. It was adopted. The other was not adopted: It was offered by Democrat Dennis Kucinich and would give the president 15 days to remove forces from Libya.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Congress delivered a rebuke to President Obama today for his handling of the intervention in Libya. A majority of both Republicans and Democrats expressed their disapproval that they were not consulted on the decision to enter the conflict.

Still, as NPR's David Welna reports, most lawmakers appear unwilling to halt military involvement in Libya.

DAVID WELNA: Only one of the two resolutions on Libya that the House considered carried the day. It was the more moderate one and it was hastily drawn up by House Speaker John Boehner only yesterday to compete with a harder-hitting measure that many Republicans appeared ready to back if they had no alternative. Boehner talked up his proposal today on the House floor.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (House Speaker; Republican, Ohio): This resolution puts the president on notice.

WELNA: That resolution, which passed 268 to 145, gives the president two weeks to send Congress details on what the objectives, costs and reasons are for the ongoing Libyan intervention. It also asserts that the president has failed to provide a compelling national security rationale for taking part in that conflict.

Rep. BOEHNER: He has a chance to get this right. And if he doesn't, Congress will exercise its constitutional authority and we will make it right.

WELNA: The indignation in the House was not so much over the U.S. having gone into Libya, much more it was about how President Obama went about it. California Republican Tom McClintock said President Obama had given short shrift to the 1973 War Powers Resolution.

Representative TOM McCLINTOCK (Republican, California): Without prior congressional authorization, under the War Powers Act, the president may only commit armed forces to hostilities for 60 days if there is a direct attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions or its armed forces. There was none.

WELNA: What's more, said New Jersey Republican Scott Garrett, only Congress has the constitutional authority to declare war.

Representative SCOTT GARRETT (Republican, New Jersey): The president's complete failure to consult with Congress and receive specific authority as required by the War Powers Act and by the Constitution leads to only one conclusion: that President Obama is in violation of the Constitution and the authority under the War Powers Act as well.

WELNA: Democrats were divided over whether to protest the president's actions. Some defended the intervention in Libya. Others including Jim McGovern of Massachusetts derided Boehner's resolution as a non-binding pile of words with no more legal authority than a press release.

Representative JIM McGOVERN (Democrat, Massachusetts): What Mr. Boehner has proposed here has all this tough language in it, requiring the president to do this, directing the president to do that, when in fact if we pass this, the president is under the obligation to do nothing.

WELNA: A much blunter resolution called for U.S. military forces to leave Libya within 15 days. Its lead sponsor was Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich.

Representative DENNIS KUCINICH (Democrat, Ohio): Let us defend the doctrine of checks and balances. Let us defend the institution of the Congress of the United States. And as we stand here having taken an oath to defend the Constitution, this, my friends, is our moment.

WELNA: Saying it went too far, Speaker Boehner urged colleagues to oppose the Kucinich resolution.

Rep. BOEHNER: We may have differences regarding how we got here, but we cannot turn our backs on our troops and our NATO partners who have stuck by us over the last 10 years.

WELNA: The second resolution lost by about the same margin that Boehner's won. After the vote, Kucinich was unbowed.

Rep. KUCINICH: This issue of Libya is not going to go away. With the spending soon approaching a billion dollars, we'll be back here another day to consider further what our appropriate constitutional role is.

WELNA: Indeed, only 88 House members voted against both Libya resolutions. Every one of them was a Democrat. The White House called the resolutions unnecessary and unhelpful.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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