As of Friday, the House has now held four votes on Libya — and at first glance, the message members are sending to the administration seems somewhat muddled.
On June 3, the House voted against immediately removing all U.S. forces from Libya. The same day, it voted to rebuke President Obama on Libya and called on him to report to Congress within two weeks with further details on the objectives of the mission.
Got all that?
Things in the Senate aren’t much clearer. The upper chamber voted unanimously on March 1 to call for the possible establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya, more than two weeks before Obama authorized U.S. military operations in the country.
But the Senate has yet to pass a further resolution in the 97 days since Obama’s announcement, and a bipartisan resolution authored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) begins working its way through the committee process next week and remains unscheduled for a vote.
All of that would seem to suggest that Congress is at something of a loss when it comes to handling the U.S. military intervention in Libya. The slow-moving Senate has had difficulty agreeing on what type of resolution, if any, should be brought to the floor, while the faster-paced House has voted on a flurry of resolutions that have sent mixed messages at best.
At least one apparent contradiction became resolved during Friday’s floor debate in the House: Most members had rejected the second resolution (on limiting funding of the Libyan operation) not because they support U.S. operations in Libya, but rather because they viewed the measure as a back-door authorization of U.S. participation in the NATO-led mission.
“(The defunding measure) specifically grants to the President what up until now he has completely lacked: Congressional authority to engage in every conceivable belligerent act short of actually pulling the trigger,” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said on the floor of the House.
McClintock, who had voted in favor of Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s (D-Ohio) measure this month to immediately remove U.S. forces from Libya, argued that Friday’s defunding measure would have allowed the U.S. military to engage in “refueling bombers on their way to targets; identifying and selecting targets; guiding munitions to their targets; logistical support; operational planning.”
“These are all acts of war in direct support of belligerents at war – and this bill authorizes them,” he said.
After Friday’s roll call came in, it appeared that most liberal Democrats agreed with McClintock and other Republican opponents of the U.S. involvement in Libya that a vote on limiting funding would have amounted to a de-facto authorization of the mission.
Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.) and Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) – the chairman and vice-chairman of the House Democratic Caucus – voted against the partial defunding measure (as did all other House Democratic leaders), even though Larson and Becerra had both previously joined most Republicans (and all Republican leaders) in voting against the authorization on Friday.
Things were less clear-cut on the Republican side: Even though 144 House Republicans voted three weeks ago against immediately pulling out of Libya, only seven of those 144 voted Friday to authorize the mission.
They were Republican Reps. Charlie Dent (Pa.), David Dreier (Calif.), Steve King (Iowa), House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (New York), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), David Rivera (Fla.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (Mich.). Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), who was not present during the vote this month, also voted Friday to authorize the mission.
Also worth noting is that those eight Republicans are different from the 10 Republicans who voted this month against the House’s rebuke of President Obama on Libya. Those 10 were Reps. John Campbell (Calif.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Tim Huelskamp (Kansas), Tim Johnson (Ill.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Steve Pearce (N.M.), David Schweikert (Ariz.), Joe Walsh (Ill.) and Allen West (Fla.).
So in short, the House demonstrated three weeks ago that it doesn’t want to immediately withdraw from the Libyan conflict, but it also showed Friday that it doesn’t authorize the mission.
The next test for Congress will probably be a vote next month on another Kucinich amendment calling for a defunding of the entire Libyan mission.
“If what I’m hearing is accurate, I think we can win that amendment for a cutoff of funds in two weeks,” Kucinich said after Friday’s votes.
Still, if the House’s recent track record is anything to go by, nothing is a sure thing when it comes to Libya.