House Votes On Libya Resolutions

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The House voted Friday on two resolutions dealing with NATO-led military operations in Libya. The first would have authorized U.S. operations for a year — that failed. The second would have placed severe funding limits on American involvement in the conflict — that failed too.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

On Capitol Hill today, the House weighed in on the U.S. role in Libya. Lawmakers considered two bills. In one, they had the chance to authorize President Obama's use of force in Libya. In the other, they could yank all funding for the operation, and the House did neither.

As NPR's Andrea Seabrook explains, in a pair of strikingly different votes, lawmakers exposed their loud bark and their soft bite.

ANDREA SEABROOK: On the one hand, the House rebuked President Obama for getting the U.S. military involved in Libya without first consulting Congress.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; Speaker of the House): I'm disappointed that we've reached this point here today. It didn't have to come to this.

SEABROOK: House Speaker John Boehner said, in fact, the president doesn't have the authority to wade into a war alone.

Rep. BOEHNER: Now, make no mistake, I support the removal of the Libyan regime. I support the president's authorities as commander in chief. But when the president chooses to challenge the powers of the Congress, I, as speaker of this House, will defend the constitutional authority of the legislature.

SEABROOK: The first bill the House considered today would have authorized the operation for one year.

Representative ADAM KINZINGER (Republican, Illinois): The world is watching our actions today.

SEABROOK: Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger defended President Obama's aid to the Libyan rebels.

Rep. KINZINGER: A slaughter almost occurred, and we were able to stop it by our presence there.

SEABROOK: But most Republicans, like Ted Poe of Texas, argued that Mr. Obama's flawed process in starting the Libya operation shouldn't be rewarded with a blessing from Congress.

Representative TED POE (Republican, Texas): I wish we could vote up or down today on that issue, and let the House decide if we should be in war in Libya.

SEABROOK: So most Republicans and 70 Democrats voted down the authority to continue the war. It's widely seen as a rebuke of the president for not consulting Congress in the first place.

But when it came to backing up its rebuke with action, the Congress wavered. The second bill it considered would have abruptly cut off funding for most of the operations in Libya.

Florida Republican Tom Rooney sponsored the bill in hopes of getting the president to consult with Congress.

Representative TOM ROONEY (Republican, Florida): So it has to be a sober, deliberative long debate, and the president had 60 days and chose not to engage in that debate. So here we are today saying if you choose not to come here and get authorization, we are going to stop it until you do.

SEABROOK: Many Republicans argued the U.S. has no business in Libya in the first place.

Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison rejected that.

Representative KEITH ELLISON (Democrat, Minnesota): We have business stopping mass murder from happening around the world. We have business in stopping the destabilization of regions like North Africa. We have business in making sure that the peaceful resolutions in Egypt and in Tunisia are not undermined.

SEABROOK: And Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee said staying in Libya gives the U.S. an opportunity for peace at some point down the road.

Representative SHEILA JACKSON LEE (Democrat, Texas): We have the Arab League that has asked us to stand with them against the oppression of one of its members. This is a door-opener to say to the people that we have asked to be with us, to go against terrorist acts to stand for democracy.

SEABROOK: Either these Democratic arguments were persuasive or lawmakers couldn't stomach using the blunt weapon of slashing funding for the Libya operation. In the end, the second bill failed as well.

So how do you read the House's action today? Well, it's angry at the president and refused to give him authorization to continue in Libya, but it's not mad enough to cut the funding.

More than likely, the White House will continue operations as it has, without much input from the Congress at all.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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