Crossing party lines to deliver a stunning rebuke to the commander in chief, the vast majority of the House voted Friday for resolutions telling President Obama he has broken the constitutional chain of authority by committing U.S. troops to the international military mission in Libya.
In two votes — on competing resolutions that amounted to legislative lectures of Mr. Obama — Congress escalated the brewing constitutional clash over whether he ignored the founding document’s grant of war powers by sending U.S. troops to aid in enforcing a no-fly zone and naval blockade of Libya.
The resolutions were non-binding, and only one of them passed, but taken together, roughly three-quarters of the House voted to put Mr. Obama on notice that he must explain himself or else face future consequences, possibly including having funds for the war cut off.
“He has a chance to get this right. If he doesn’t, Congress will exercise its constitutional authority and make it right,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, the Ohio Republican who wrote the resolution that passed, 268-145, and sets a two-week deadline for the president to deliver the information the House is seeking.
Minutes after approving Mr. Boehner’s measure, the House defeated an even more strongly-worded resolution offered by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, that would have insisted the president begin a withdrawal of troops.
Most lawmakers said that was too rash at this point, and said they wanted to give Mr. Obama time to comply. Some also said immediate withdrawal would leave U.S. allies in the lurch.
The Kucinich resolution failed 148-265. In a telling signal, 87 Republicans voted for Mr. Kucinich’s resolution — more than the 61 Democrats that did.
Still, taken together, 324 members of Congress voted for one resolution or both resolutions, including 91 Democrats, or nearly half the caucus. The size of the votes signals overwhelming discontent with Mr. Obama’s handling of the constitutional issues surrounding the Libya fight.
Asked about the votes beforehand, the White House said it believes it is following the law by alerting Congress of its intentions regarding Libya, and called the resolutions “unnecessary and unhelpful.”
“We’ve continued to consult with Congress all along,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest, pointing to briefings Mr. Obama and his top aides have given to members of Congress at various times before and during the deployment of troops.
The Constitution gives the power to declare war to Congress, but the power to manage the armed forces to the president. The War Powers Resolution, enacted in 1973, tries to bridge that gap by allowing the president to commit troops for up to 60 days, but requires him to seek congressional approval if he wants to extend the commitment beyond that period.
Mr. Obama’s only allies were top Democratic leaders, who said neither resolution was helpful as the president tries to aid U.S. allies’ efforts.
U.S. military action began March 19, as Mr. Obama committed U.S. forces to take the lead in setting up a no-fly zone to protect Libyan rebels fighting against the government of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
The U.S. eventually moved to a support role, and is currently aiding NATO, which is maintaining the no-fly zone.
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Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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