House Republicans set Libya vote for Friday

June 23, 2011

The House is expected Friday to vote to strip funding for offensive military operations in Libya, leaving only money for U.S. forces carrying out support activities for the NATO-led mission such as aircraft refueling, intelligence-gathering and reconnaissance.

Republican leaders scheduled two votes on Libya on Friday as restive lawmakers seek a chance to rebuke President Obama over the operation. One measure would authorize the U.S. role in the 97-day-old military campaign, but that vote is expected to fail. The other, sponsored by Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R-Fla.), would cut off funds for activities such as U.S. drone strikes.

Rooney’s resolution is unlikely to have any real-world effect, because the Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely to approve it. But it would still be the strongest signal to date that the House — including Republicans and many Democrats — have turned against Obama over the U.S. mission in Libya.

“I don’t think that it’s our role to . . . determine what will or what won’t go to the Senate. I think that we have to take care of our business,” Rooney said. “We’re not going to sit by and just do nothing while the president has broken the law.”

Republicans contend that the president has bypassed a 1973 law that requires presidents to seek congressional approval after sending forces into hostilities overseas, and the White House argues that it is not engaging in sustained “hostilities.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday that the House action was intended as a symbolic gesture and sought to reassure the NATO alliance that U.S. forces were not likely to withdraw.

“We are engaged. I believe that NATO is an important organization, and as we’re there, I don’t want to do anything that would undermine NATO or to send a signal to our allies around the world that we are not going to be engaged,” he said. “This is primarily a fight between the Congress and the president over his unwillingness to consult with us before making a decision.”

Obama has responded to concerns that he has flouted the intent of the 1973 War Powers Resolution by arguing that the Libyan conflict should not count as “hostilities.” The White House argument is that U.S. forces are engaged primarily in support activities, although U.S. drone strikes have continued.

If that explanation was intended to defuse anger on Capitol Hill, it didn’t work. Even many supporters of the U.S. role in the conflict have chastised Obama for what they view as a legal end-run around Congress.

In the House, Reps. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.) have also said that they will work to strip all funding for the campaign out of the Pentagon’s spending bill for fiscal 2012. If that vote happens, it won’t be until next month.

David A. Fahrenthold covers Congress for the Washington Post. He has been at the Post since 2000, and previously covered (in order) the D.C. police, New England, and the environment.
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