House Votes On Libya Split Both Parties

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It's 96 days now since President Obama ordered U.S. forces to begin airstrikes against Moammar Gadhafi's forces in Libya. That's six days longer than the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which says a president can carry out a military campaign without congressional authorization. Two measures were brought before the House of Representatives that might have provided such authorization, albeit with strings attached. Both failed. NPR's David Welna reports.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

It's been 96 days since President Obama ordered U.S. forces to begin airstrikes in Libya against troops loyal to Colonel Moammar Gadhafi. That's six days longer than a president is allowed to carry out a military campaign without congressional authorization with the 1973 War Powers Resolution.

Yesterday, two measures were brought before the House of Representatives that might have provided such authorization, although with strings attached. Both failed. NPR's David Welna has our report.

DAVID WELNA: According to the White House, President Obama does not need the permission of Congress for the Libyan intervention. That's because the president thinks the current U.S. role there in support of NATO forces does not rise to the level of hostilities. California Republican Tom McClintock dismissed that assertion yesterday on the House floor.

Representative TOM MCCLINTOCK (Republican, California): The president's now on notice that he is in direct defiance of Congress. That is the message we need to send today.

WELNA: But as Minority Whip Steny Hoyer reminded colleagues, they'd already formally rebuked the president once and in doing so they had earned the gratitude of one embattled foreign leader.

Representative STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland): Gadhafi wrote us a letter in the last debate just some weeks and thanked the House of Representatives for its debate. Is that the message we want to send to Gadhafi? I think not.

WELNA: The conflict in Libya divides Republicans as well as Democrats. Adam Kinzinger is a freshman Republican and Air Force pilot from Illinois who served five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He urged colleagues to support a resolution before the House that authorized the Libyan intervention for up to one year.

Representative ADAM KINZINGER (Republican, Illinois): Don't let a dispute between the legislative branch and the executive branch result in us pulling the rug out from standing up for freedom. America has a responsibility to finish this through, to stand with our allies. To leave now means Gadhafi wins.

WELNA: But most Republicans derided the one-year authorization, which mirrors one that's pending in the Senate. Florida's Ileana Ros-Lehtinen chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Representative ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (Republican, Florida, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee): While a complete withdrawal is unacceptable, the resolution before us is also unacceptable. Their solution effectively ratifies that all that the president has done and it would grant him the blessings of Congress to continue on his present course.

WELNA: California's Howard Berman is the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs panel. He did endorse the yearlong authorization but question why it was even brought up.

Representative HOWARD BERMAN (Democrat, California): Let's be honest about what's happening here. The Republican leadership allowed this resolution to come to the floor for one reason and one reason only: they know it will fail and they think its defeat will be a political defeat for the White House.

WELNA: And fail it did - only eight Republicans voted for it, while 70 anti-war Democrats joined the rest of the Republicans in voted against it. A second GOP-sponsored resolution as then considered. It would allow U.S. forces to continue operations in Libya indefinitely but also bar any funds from being used for a combat action, such as ongoing drone strikes. It had the blessing of House Speaker John Boehner.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio, Speaker of the House): This bill represents, I believe, a reasonable approach. By allowing our forces to continue playing a limited support role, it would not undermine our NATO partners. It would, however, prevent the president from carrying out any further hostilities without Congress's approval.

WELNA: But the measures split the difference approach failed to win over quite a few other Republicans, including Oklahoma's Tom Cole.

Representative TOM COLE (Republican, Oklahoma): Congress should reassert its constitutional authority, Mr. Speaker, by either authorizing the use of military force or ending it. This resolution avoids either course.

WELNA: In a blow to the speaker, 89 fellow Republicans opposed the measure, sealing its defeat.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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