House Rebukes Obama for Continuing Libyan Mission Without Its Consent

John Boehner

The resolution, which passed 268 to 145, was offered by Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, to siphon off swelling Republican support for a measure sponsored by Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat, which calls for a withdrawal of the United States military from the air and naval operations in and around Libya.

The resolution criticizing the president passed with the support of 45 Democrats and all but 10 of the Republicans who were present. The measure from Mr. Kucinich, one of the most liberal members of the House, later failed by 148 to 265, with 87 Republicans voting in favor.

As a legislative matter, Mr. Boehner’s resolution has no practical effect, and is little more than an expression of opinion. A decision by the Supreme Court more than two decades ago suggested that Congress is not empowered to enforce a resolution or other directive that, unlike a bill, the president has no chance to veto.

But as a political matter, the resolution is an unusually blunt confrontation with an American president during a military conflict, and it underscores a bipartisan distaste among members of Congress for attempts to bypass their authority when waging war. Over all, roughly two-thirds of the House members who voted Friday backed one or two measures disapproving of the president’s actions. (Mr. Kucinich voted for both.)

Mr. Boehner’s resolution demands that the administration provide, within 14 days, detailed information about the nature, cost and objectives of the American contribution to the NATO operation, as well as an explanation of why the White House did not come to Congress for permission to continue to take part in the mission. The language suggests that the House may consider funding requests for the Libya operation in a harsh light if not satisfied with the response to its requests for information.

The issue is unlikely to be taken up by the Senate, which seems to be taking the opposite tack. Last month, Senators John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and John McCain, Republican of Arizona, both military veterans, introduced a resolution to express support for the Libyan mission.

The roughly two-hour debate on Friday concerning both resolutions provided some interesting alliances among far-left and hard-right lawmakers, and a bit of a role reversal in the discussion of executive power and the relevance of Libya to America’s vital interests.

“It seems the running shoe is on the other foot,” said Representative Howard L. Berman, Democrat of California, noting that Republicans had accused Democrats of “cutting and running” on military operations in the past. Representative James P. Moran, Democrat of Virginia, chided Republicans, saying “to tie the president’s hands is inconsistent with the legacy of this body, which is to do what is necessary to protect American interests.”

In contrast, Representative Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican who voted for both measures, said: “We’re not going to go to war without the people of this country supporting it. The Boehner resolution I’m going to support, but it doesn’t go far enough.”

The United States is providing NATO with intelligence, logistical support and armed drones in what is largely a bombing campaign against Libyan government forces. The administration has contended that it is within Mr. Obama’s power to initiate American participation in the hostilities without Congress because the combat is limited to an air offensive.

Last month, Mr. Obama sent a letter to Congress emphasizing that the United States had turned control of the operation over to NATO and that it was primarily providing support to allies.

“It is the view of this administration that we’ve acted in accordance with the War Powers Act,” said Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman. “We’ve been engaged in that consultation all along — as I mentioned, three separate briefings have been held just this week for members of Congress. We’re committed to that moving forward.” Mr. Earnest characterized the resolutions as “unnecessary and unhelpful.”

The War Powers Resolution says that presidents must terminate hostilities after 60 days if they have not been authorized by Congress; that deadline passed on May 20 without an explanation to Congress from the administration of why it thought it was lawful for the operation to continue.

The failure to provide an explanation, after Mr. Obama’s failure to obtain Congressional authorization for the engagement at the outset, upset antiwar factions of his own party in Congress as well as conservative Republicans seeking to rein in both executive power and federal spending.

The debate on Friday involved questions about the nature of the conflict in Libya, the country’s importance to American security interests and the role of Congress in authorizing military campaigns.

“The American people and the members of this House have questions and concerns that have gone unanswered,” Mr. Boehner said on the floor of the House. “The president of the United States is our commander in chief, and I’ve always believed that combat decisions should be left to the commander in chief and the generals on the ground. But the House also has an obligation to heed the concerns of our constituents and to carry out our constitutional responsibilities.”

Members of both parties complained of war fatigue in their districts, and the reluctance of constituents to support another front, although some members emphasized the importance of supporting a continuing operation, even if they did not agree with the way it began.

“It is not surprising that there is a desire to simply say, ‘Enough,’ ” said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican who is chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She voted for Mr. Boehner’s resolution, but against the one brought by Mr. Kucinich.

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