In a pair of strikingly different votes, the House on Friday exposed its loud bark and its soft bite on U.S. military efforts in Libya.
The chamber voted down a measure that would give President Obama the authority to continue the U.S. military action against the Libyan regime — but it also rejected an attempt to cut off money for those efforts.
The 295-123 defeat on the authority resolution was expected, but it still represented a rebuke to the commander in chief. Obama, who did not seek congressional permission before the Libyan mission began, had said he had welcomed a resolution authorizing the participation.
"Now, make no mistake. I support the removal of the Libya regime. I support the president's authority as the commander-in-chief," said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). "But when the president chooses to challenge the powers of the Congress, I as speaker of the House will defend the constitutional authority of the legislature."
But less than two hours later, the chamber voted 238-180 against defunding the Libya action. The measure would have barred U.S. drone attacks and airstrikes in Libya but would have allowed the continuance of actions to support NATO troops.
Many Republicans and Democrats argued the U.S. has no business in Libya. Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison rejected that.
"We have business stopping mass murder from happening around the world. we have business stopping the destabilization of regions like North Africa. We have business in making sure that the peaceful resolutions that are happening in Tunisia and Egypt are not undermined," he said.
The authority resolution 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.
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 three-month-old war. Some Democrats accused the GOP of playing politics with national security.
"We have drifted into an apparently open-ended commitment with goals vaguely defined," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), 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-OH) asked mockingly. "We need one more war. We have to wage war against another nation that didn't attack us."
The bill to cut off funds would have made exceptions for search and rescue efforts, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, aerial refueling and operational planning to continue the NATO effort in Libya. Even if the House had passed the measure, it stood little chance in the Senate.
House Republicans and Democrats are furious with Obama for failing to seek congressional authorization for the war against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, as required under the War Powers Resolution. The 1973 law, often ignored by Republican and Democratic presidents, says the commander-in-chief must seek congressional consent for military actions within 60 days. That deadline has long passed.
Obama stirred congressional unrest last week when he told lawmakers he didn't need authorization because the operation was not full-blown hostilities. NATO commands the Libya operation, but 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.
Andrea Seabrook contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press.