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US House Criticizes Obama on Libya

  • Cindy Saine

Speaker of the US House of Representatives, John Boehner, May 2, 2011

Speaker of the US House of Representatives, John Boehner, May 2, 2011

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has adopted a resolution criticizing President Barack Obama for dispatching U.S. military forces to the NATO mission in Libya without first getting congressional approval. A separate resolution that would have required an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Libya mission was defeated.

Anti-war Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio pushed the House of Representatives into taking action on Libya Friday by sponsoring a resolution that would have required the president to remove U.S. forces from the mission in Libya within 14 days. From the beginning, Kucinich insisted that the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to declare war, and not the president, and that President Obama is violating the Constitution by commiting U.S. forces to Libya without congressional authorization.

"If Congress does not challenge a president's dismissal of the clear meaning of Article 1, Section 8 [of the Constituion], then we will have tacitly endorsed a president's violation of the Constitution and guaranteed the perpetuation of future constitutional transgressions," said Kucinich.

The Kucinich resolution was defeated by a vote of 148 in favor and 265 against.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner and his Republican caucus hastily put together their own competing Libya resolution over the past 24 hours as an alternative to the Kucinich resolution, which was widely seen as gaining ground, and as having a real chance of passing, which would have been a major embarassment to President Obama.

The Boehner resolution is non-binding, asking for the president to explain why he believes Libya is vital to U.S. national security interests, and prohibiting the president from deploying ground troops in Libya - which the president has repeatedly said he has no intention of doing. Speaker Boehner explained his resolution, and said Congress would take further action later if necessary.

"This resolution puts the president on notice," said Boehner. "He has a chance to get this right, and if he doesn't, Congress will exercise its constitutional authority and we will make it right.

Boehner said his resolution is responsible, and said the Kucinich resolution went too far.

Friday was a day of passionate and intense debate in the House on U.S. military action in Libya, with the debate crossing party lines. Some Republicans supported the resolution by liberal Democrat Kucinich and some Democrats supported the much milder Boehner resolution. Democratic Congressman Howard Berman of California rejected both resolutions, and accused Republicans of rebuking the president for political reasons in the Boehner resolution.

"It is a pedantic effort to embarass the president without taking any ownership for the policy of the intervention," said Berman.

Many Republican lawmakers supported the Boehner resolution but rejected the Kucinich resolution. House Foreign Affairs Commitee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen criticized the president for failing to get congressional authorization for the Libya mission, which has now been going on for almost three months. But she said an abrupt withdrawal as called for in the Kucinich resolution would have a widespread negative impact on U.S. allies and on dictators around the world, especially Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

"The news that the U.S. House of Representatives had mandated a withdrawal of U.S. forces would send a ray of sunshine into the whole in which Gadhafi is currently hiding," said Ros-Lehtinen.

Some lawmakers rejected the premise of both resolutions, saying they believe that President Obama has explained why he decided to commit forces to Libya - to prevent an almost certain massacre of civilians. Democratic Congressman Adam Smith of Washington.

"There was no doubt at the time that we intervened, that if we had not, Muammar Gadhafi would have slaughtered his own people and reasserted control over Libya," said Smith.

The White House called the congressional votes on Libya "unnecessary and unhelpful". On Thursday, the Pentagon issued a statement quoting Defense Secretary Robert Gates as saying he believes that for the United States, once committed to a NATO operation, to unilaterally abandon that mission would have enormous and dangerous long-term consequences.

President Obama ordered air strikes in March to back Libyan rebels battling Gadhafi's troops after informing congressional leaders.

The president has argued that he acted to prevent a massacre in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. He had the backing of several lawmakers, including Republican Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Democratic-led Senate voted unanimously in support of establishing a no-fly zone over Libya, and has not announced any plans to take up either of the House resolutions. In fact, the Senate may vote next week to express support for the president's decision to commit troops to the military action in Libya.