Lawmakers agree Obama botched Libya action

But disagree on what to do about it

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“I didn’t want us in Libya, but I don’t want us to cut things off immediately when our NATO allies are relying on us,” Mr. Waxman said.

Libya has been a pressing political issue since Mr. Obama committed troops in March. It also has been the flash point for a brewing constitutional crisis between Mr. Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, who said the president had not provided enough good information nor sought the approval of Congress, in violation of the War Powers Resolution. Mr. Boehner carved out floor time for the various debates.

The president argues that the U.S. is no longer engaged in hostilities because of the limited nature of the war. More recently, his administration has argued that rather than fight over legal issues, Congress instead should focus on the U.S. effort to protect civilians from forces loyal to Libya’s leader, Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

“The debate over the law can go on forever, but there is an important and urgent question, and that is what happens to the civilians of Libya,” State Department legal adviser Harold Koh told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month.

Some lawmakers have said they oppose the way the effort has been handled but hope rebel forces are able to oust Col. Gadhafi quickly, making the U.S. debate obsolete.

For now, though, the conflict continues and all eyes turn to Mr. Boehner, who has not said anything publicly since the House rejected all of the options on the table, and to the Senate, where a debate could start as early as this week.

Even if the Senate acts in the next several weeks to authorize the war, there seems to be little chance that the House would do the same. A resolution similar to the Senate’s authorization failed in the House in late June by a 295-123 vote.

During that same debate, the House also rejected a bill by Rep. Thomas J. Rooney, Florida Republican, that would have authorized a supporting role but ruled out airstrikes. The measure was defeated with a 238-180 vote.

After those measures failed, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat who has been leading the opposition, was hopeful that the House would cut off all spending for the war during its debate last week on the 2012 spending bill. However, that was defeated by a 229-199 vote.

Lawmakers are divided over the longer-term implications of failing to curtail Mr. Obama’s actions, though Mr. Diaz-Balart and others cautioned that the Libya case should be considered on its own merits.

He said the president has the authority under the War Powers Resolution to commit troops, so lawmakers have limited options other than to undercut allies and send a bad message to the rest of the world.

Mr. Diaz-Balart said the closest option to his own preference would have been the Rooney bill authorizing a supporting role, but that it went too far in ending attacks by manned aircraft and drone strikes.

Mr. Kucinich said before the vote that if Congress doesn’t speak with unity, voters will force the president’s hand.

“Right now, there’s a stalemate in Libya, and there’s a stalemate in Washington. And public opinion will break it — will break the stalemate. And the longer this goes on, the more of a political burden this is going to become for the president,” he said.

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