In something of a surprise, the House on Friday rejected a measure to cut funding for offensive operations by U.S. forces in Libya, pulling back from an effort to confront President Obama over the three month-old conflict.

That resolution failed by a vote of 180 to 238. It would not have ended the U.S. mission in Libya, but it would have cut off funding for American forces that are not engaged in support missions within the NATO-led coalition, like aerial refueling, reconnaissance, and planning. That would have meant an end to strikes on Libyan targets by unmanned U.S. drones.

Earlier Friday, the House voted to reject a resolution that would have authorized the military operation in Libya.

That vote failed, 123 to 295, with dozens of Democrats joining Republicans in voting against the resolution. The proposal, modeled on one proposed in the Senate by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), would have given permission for a “limited” operation for one year. It would not have allowed for U.S. ground troops in Libya.

Seventy Democrats and 225 Republicans voted against the resolution.

Seventy Democrats and 225 Republicans voted against the resolution.

The debate before the early vote revealed how the Libyan operation--launched at a time when Congress was already weary of war in Iraq and Afghanistan--has divided both parties.

Speaking on the House floor, both Republicans and Democrats said that rejecting the resolution would offer comfort to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s forces are the target of the NATO-led operation, in which U.S. forces play largely a supporting role.

“The message will go to every nation of the world,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the House’s second-ranking Democrat, “that America does not keep faith with its allies.”

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a legislator from the opposite side of the ideological spectrum from Hoyer, had a similar concern. He said that voting against the resolution would show both Gaddafi and NATO that the U.S. was a wobbly partner in the Libyan campaign.

“This message encourages our enemy,” King said. “We should conduct our disagreement with the president domestically, not in foreign policy.”

But others, from both parties, said they would vote “no” to show President Obama their anger over his decision not to seek congressional authorization.

Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.), a freshman, said he understood concerns about whether a “no” vote would encourage Gaddafi.

But, he said, “those are not legal arguments. Those don’t change the question of whether the action in Libya is constitutional or legal,” Griffin said. He said President Obama should have sought authorization.

“What’s so hard about coming to the House and consulting with the Congress. What’s so hard about that?”

“What? We don’t have enough wars going on?,” said Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), who has sought to strip funds for the entire operation, not just the parts connected to offensive operations.” We need one more war?

The rejection of this resolution is not likely to force any change in Obama’s course in Libya. In fact, the president has already said he does not need Congress’s permission--which means, by his reasoning, Friday’s first vote was academic.

Under a 1973 law, the War Powers Resolution, presidents must obtain that authorization after sending U.S. forces into hostilities abroad. But Obama has said that law does not apply here, since U.S. forces are involved mainly in support roles, and face little danger from Gaddafi’s battered forces. For those reasons, Obama has declared, what’s happening in Libya should not count as “hostilities” for the purpose of that law.