J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Challenging presidential power, a defiant U.S. House voted overwhelmingly Friday to deny President Barack Obama the authority to wage war against Libya. But Republicans fell short in an effort to actually cut off funds for the operation in a constitutional showdown reflecting both political differences and unease over American involvement.
In a repudiation of their commander in chief, House members rejected a measure to authorize the Libya mission for a year while prohibiting U.S. ground forces in the North African nation, a resolution Obama had said he would welcome.
The vote was 295-123 with 70 Democrats abandoning the president just one day after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had made an unusual appeal to rank-and-file members. A Senate committee is to consider the same resolution next Tuesday and is expected to support it, raising the prospect of conflicting messages from Congress.
Friday's votes showed lawmakers' concerns about an open-ended U.S. commitment to a civil war between Moammar Gadhafi and rebel forces looking to oust him — as well as growing weariness among Americans with drawn-out conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition, the resounding number rejecting the authority resolution was a clear sign of anger toward the president for failing to seek congressional consent for the operation within 60 days, as stated in the 1973 War Powers Resolution. Republicans and Democrats argued that an arrogant Obama had run roughshod over the Constitution, ignoring the authority of the legislative branch that the founding fathers had insisted has the power to declare war.
While Republican as well as Democratic presidents have often ignored the War Powers Resolution, a frustrated House voted earlier this month to rebuke Obama for failing to provide a "compelling rationale" for the Libyan mission and for launching U.S. military forces without congressional approval. They requested a report to Congress on the operation.
Obama further incensed lawmakers last week when he said he didn't need authorization because the operation did not rise to full-blown hostilities, a decision he reached by overruling some of his advisers.
It's not about Gadhafi, foes of the authorization said.
"I support the removal of the Libyan regime. I support the president's authority as commander in chief, but when the president chooses to challenge the powers of the Congress I, as speaker of the House, will defend the constitutional authority of the legislature," said Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Added Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla.: "The last thing that we want as Americans is for some president, whether it's this president or some future president, to be able to pick fights around the world without any debate from another branch of government."
The rejected money-cutoff bill, sponsored by Rooney, would have barred drone attacks and airstrikes but allowed the United States to continue actions in support of the NATO-led operation such as intelligence gathering, refueling and reconnaissance. The effort to cut off money was defeated, 238-180. While GOP leaders backed the measure, they didn't pressure Republicans to support it.
Supporting Obama, Democrats opposed to the votes argued that they would empower Gadhafi, aggravate NATO allies desperately needed in the fight in Afghanistan and send a dispiriting message to those who led the Arab spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere.
They reminded lawmakers of Gadhafi's role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and said he had American blood on his hands.
"The message will go all over the world, the message will go to Moammar Gadhafi, the message will go to our NATO allies, the message will go to every nation of the world that America does not keep faith with its allies," said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House.
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