Traditional party allegiances seemed to mean little Friday as House members took to the floor to speak out on U.S. involvement in Libya, with members forming alliances on the issue across the aisle.
The debate comes before House votes scheduled for Friday afternoon on two competing Libya resolutions. One, introduced by liberal anti-war Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), calls for the end of U.S. operations in Libya within 15 days. The other, sponsored by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), rebukes President Obama for not receiving congressional authorization before beginning the Libyan operation and opposes any use of ground troops, but stops short of demanding an end to the mission.
The House had originally been expected to vote on only the Kucinich resolution earlier this week, but House Republican leaders pulled the measure as it garnered broader support than anticipated. After consulting with rank-and-file House Republicans, Boehner introduced his own resolution on the Libya operation on Thursday.
The move created some unusual alliances. House Democratic leaders such as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.), both of whom have typically voted in favor of anti-war resolutions, announced that they will vote against both the Kucinich and Boehner measures.
“Last week, the House voted overwhelmingly on a bipartisan basis to prevent U.S. boots on the ground in Libya,” Pelosi said in a statement Thursday evening. “As I have said before, the NATO-led efforts in Libya will be strengthened by continued consultation with the Congress. The resolutions by Speaker Boehner and Congressman Kucinich, as currently drafted, do not advance our efforts in the region and send the wrong message to our NATO partners.”
Pelosi was joined in her opposition to both measures on Friday by a number of House Republicans and Democrats who argued on the House floor that the U.S. acted correctly in intervening in Libya and that the resolutions would send the wrong message to U.S. allies abroad
“The Middle East is awakening to freedom,” freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said during the floor debate on the Kucinich resolution. “This war, this action in Libya, I believe sells itself.”
Members on both sides of the issue also broadened the argument to one about not just the Libyan conflict, but about the identity of the United States and of Congress itself.
Virginia Democratic Rep. Jim Moran, another opponent of the Kucinich resolution, argued that the measure was “not as much about Libya as it is about us.”
“This resolution is not about whether we should be involved,” Moran said. “We are always going to be involved because we are the world’s economic, military and moral superpower. And to choose not to act, particularly in times of such a crisis and transformation that is occurring throughout the Arab world, is in fact to choose, and in this case it would be to choose to define us as a people who have decided to look the other way, to choose not to hear the cries of desperate help of the Libyan people who have chosen to put their lives on the line, and the cause of democracy, of individual liberty and of freedom from oppression.”
“These are the values that define us as a people and as a nation, and they are the values, frankly, that must give hope to a world of oppression and despotism,” Moran added.
Speaking out in favor of the Kucinich resolution were an unlikely collection of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. They took issue not just with the purpose of the U.S. involvement in Libya but also Obama’s handling of the conflict.
Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) argued that opponents of the Kucinich measure were overly concerned with how the resolution would be received by NATO allies.
“NATO’s feelings. NATO’s feelings,” said Jones, an outspoken critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Well, how about the feelings of the American people? ... Isn’t it time that their feelings come first?” He added that he thanked Boehner for presenting his own resolution, “but that does not do it.”
“Let’s show the American people that we believe in the Constitution,” he said.
He was followed a few speakers later by liberal Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), who described himself as “an early and ardent supporter of the president on most issues” but added that “for me, this is about the Constitution, plain and simple.”
“What is unequivocally clear is that the declaration of war is the responsibility of Congress,” he said, adding that while the definition of war can be inexact, he believed that “when someone is shooting and somebody else, that’s war.”
Several Republican members criticized Boehner as well as Obama on Libya. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a supporter of the Kucinich resolution, called Boehner’s measure “puzzling” and “mystifying,” describing it as “only a mild rebuke, followed by a questionnaire.”
And Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), another supporter of the Kucinich measure, noted that what is absent from the current congressional debate on Libya is a resolution stating what the United States ought to be doing in the region.
“I see no resolution to go to war,” Chaffetz said. “I see no resolution that says this is what we should be doing.”