A peculiar set of House votes on Libya last Friday showed Republican maneuvering and Democratic divisions.
The typically hawkish Republicans pushed a resolution introduced by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, criticizing President Obama for continuing U.S. military involvement in Libya without the specific consent of Congress, and telling the president to provide the House with detailed information about the cost, security interests, objectives and activities of U.S. armed forces there.
The resolution, which passed 268-145, is nonbinding and does not actually require the president to do anything. Forty-five Democrats, mostly Blue Dogs, joined nearly all Republicans in voting for this measure.
The fact that no liberal or progressive Democrat who has questioned the U.S. Libya intervention voted for Boehner's resolution suggests they saw it as a Republican political ploy.
The New York Times reports Boehner submitted his resolution "to siphon off swelling Republican support" for another resolution sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, which directed the president to remove U.S. armed forces from Libya within 15 days after passage of the resolution. That bill was defeated 148-265.
Eighty-seven Republicans joined 61 Democrats in voting for Kucinich's resolution. Republicans voting for the bill included extreme right-wingers like Michele Bachmann, Minn., and Allen West, Fla.
Liberal and progressive Democrats were divided. Some prominent anti-war lawmakers like Barbara Lee, Calif., Raul Grijalva, Ariz., Lynn Woolsey, Calif., and John Conyers, Mich., voted for the Kucinich bill, while others like Keith Ellison, Minn., Donna Edwards, Md., Jan Schakowsky, Ill., and Jim McDermott, Wash., voted against it.
The Republicans' moves on Libya undoubtedly reflect their hope to use the U.S. involvement there as a presidential campaign issue. Conversely, many Democrats are undoubtedly reluctant to set up a confrontation with President Obama over Libya during the 2012 campaign that is already under way.
But from the start of the U.S. military involvement in Libya on March 19, Democrats themselves criticized the president for not seeking authorization from Congress under the War Powers Resolution. That measure, passed overwhelmingly in 1973 during the Vietnam War, says the president can send U.S. armed forces into action abroad only by authorization of Congress or in case of "a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces."
The War Powers Resolution requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30 day withdrawal period, without congressional authorization or a declaration of war. The 60-day deadline for Libya was May 20.
The White House says it has complied with the War Powers Resolution by consulting with Congress throughout. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told the New York Times. "We've been engaged in that consultation all along - as I mentioned, three separate briefings have been held just this week for members of Congress."
Public opinion seems somewhat ambivalent about the U.S. role in Libya. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted May 24-26 showed 45 percent approved and 48 percent disapproved of the way President Obama is handling the Libya situation. At the same time, 54 percent supported "the limited use of military force by the United States in Libya as part of the NATO mission to enforce United Nations resolutions," with 43 percent opposed.
But asked "who should have the final authority for deciding whether the United States should continue its use of military force in Libya: Congress or President Obama?" 55 percent said Congress should have the final authority, while 42 percent said the president should.
Pressure on Obama over Libya is likely to build as reports quote top U.S. and British officials saying they have no idea how long the military operations there could last.