Capitol Hill is keen to shape or even halt President Obama’s troop deployment to Libya, but lawmakers’ own inability to settle on a unified stance is undermining their efforts and leaving the president with a free hand to pursue the war his own way.
The House stalemated two weeks ago, failing to pass limits on Mr. Obama’s actions in Libya. Meanwhile, in the Senate, Democratic leaders canceled a Libya debate planned for this week and instead turned to symbolic tax legislation.
That gridlock means Mr. Obama remains unchecked in his deployment of U.S. forces to support the NATO mission in Libya and to conduct airstrikes in support of rebels opposing Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s government.
“There was nothing we were going to do this week in the Senate that in any way affected what was actually happening in Libya. Nothing. And everybody knew that,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, explaining to reporters this week why Republicans insisted on debating debt and spending rather than taking up the Libya matter in the Senate.
Compounding matters, the Senate and House appear unlikely to speak with a unified voice anyway. The Senate is more inclined to support a mission in Libya, while House lawmakers clearly lean the other way, including a significant number who want to end American involvement altogether.
In the House debate in June, only two options were on the table: approve Mr. Obama’s mission essentially as is, or limit U.S. troops to a true support role, with no air strikes. The former gained just 123 votes of support, while the latter garnered 180 votes, which is several dozen shy of a majority.
The House will try again this week to find common ground.
Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat and a leading anti-war lawmaker, said he’ll offer an amendment to defund the Libyan war operation entirely, and he said it’s likely colleagues will offer their own amendments.
“I think there’s a strong majority in the House that was not only opposed to what the administration did, but I think there’s a strong majority to cut off funds,” he said. “The vote that we had 10 days ago — the division within the membership was chiefly on whether the amendment was strong enough.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, on a 14-5 bipartisan vote, approved a resolution authorizing continued strikes in Libya.
That resolution was supposed to be debated on the Senate floor this week, but Democratic leaders, bowing to pressure from Mr. Obama and Republicans, withdrew it and instead turned to debt negotiations.
That’s just fine with some lawmakers who said leaving Mr. Obama with a free hand is the best option.
“I don’t care if we ever bring this up,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican who has advocated a robust military policy, told The Washington Times.