House rejects measure backing Libya war
House Speaker John Boehner talks to the press following a political strategy session on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 14, 2011. / AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Updated 2:15 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON - The House on Friday overwhelmingly rejected a measure giving President Barack Obama the authority to continue the U.S. military operation against Libya, a major repudiation of the commander in chief.
The vote was 295-123, with Obama losing the support of 70 of his Democrats one day after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had made a last-minute plea for the mission.
While the congressional action had no immediate effect on American involvement in the NATO-led mission, it was an embarrassment to a sitting president and certain to have reverberations in Tripoli and NATO capitals.
The vote marked 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.
That limited, pro-war resolution mirrored a Senate measure sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and John McCain, R-Ariz., that Obama has indicated he would welcome. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider the resolution on Tuesday.
The measure's defeat was seen as a slap on the wrist for Obama, who critics say ignored the decades-old War Powers Resolution, which requires Congressional authorization for military actions not prompted by an attack on, or imminent threat to, the United States.
The House planned a second vote on legislation to cut off money for the military hostilities in the operation.
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 3-month-old war.
The Republican leader of the House, Speaker John Boehner, said he supported the president's authority as commander in chief. "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," he said.
Some Democrats accused the Republicans of playing politics with national security. They said the vote would send a message to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said the vote would essentially "stop the mission in Libya and empower Muammar Qaddafi."
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, White House spokesman Jay Carney expressed disappointment.
"We think now is not the time to send the kind of mixed message that it sends when we're working with our allies to achieve the goals that we believe that are widely shared in Congress: protecting civilians in Libya, enforcing a no-fly zone, enforcing an arms embargo and further putting pressure on Qaddafi," Carney said. "The writing's on the wall for Colonel Qaddafi and now is not the time to let up."
Carney also dismissed the action as just one House vote.
The defeated resolution mirrors a Senate measure sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, a Democrat, and John McCain, a Republican, that Obama has indicated he would welcome. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider the resolution on Tuesday.
The second Houe vote to eliminate money for the Libya operation would make an exception for search and rescue efforts, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, aerial refueling and operational planning to continue the NATO effort in Libya. That measure has no chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
House Republicans and Democrats are furious with Obama for failing to seek congressional authorization 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 did not 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.
A New York Times report that said Obama overruled some of his legal advisers further incensed members of Congress.
In a last-ditch effort Thursday, Clinton met with rank-and-file Democrats to explain the mission and discuss the implications if the House votes to cut off funds. The administration requested the closed-door meeting.
Rep. Tim Walz, a Democrat, said Clinton apologized for not coming to Congress earlier. But he said she warned about the implications of a House vote to cut off money.
"The secretary expressed her deep concern that you're probably not on the right track when Qaddafi supports your efforts," Walz said.
Rep. Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said such a vote "ensures the failure of the whole mission."
Earlier this week Clinton said lawmakers were free to raise questions, but she asked, "Are you on Qaddafi's side, or are you on the side of the aspirations of the Libyan people and the international coalition that has been bringing them support?"
In the Senate, backers of a resolution to authorize the operation wondered whether the administration had waited too long to address the concerns of House members.
"It's way late," said McCain, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee. "This is one of the reasons why they're having this veritable uprising in the House, because of a lack of communication. And then the icing on the cake was probably for them when he (Obama) said that we're not engaged in hostilities. That obviously is foolishness."
He added, however, "That is not a reason to pass a resolution that would encourage Muammar Qaddafi to stay in power."
Earlier this month, the House voted 268-145 to rebuke Obama for failing to provide a "compelling rationale" for the Libyan mission and for launching U.S. military forces without congressional approval.
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