British and French forces launched new air attacks Sunday on Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s Libyan forces - two days after Congress expressed growing impatience with President Obama’s decision to involve the U.S. in the conflict.
The weekend airstrikes, including the Western alliance’s first use of attack helicopters Saturday, seem to have provided a much-needed boost to the struggling anti-Gadhafi forces: Rebels in recent days have forced government troops from three western towns and broken the siege of a fourth.
In two votes - on competing resolutions that amounted to legislative lectures to 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 nonbinding, 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 J. 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.
But members of Congress said the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution require more than alerts about military action - they require congressional approval, which the White House has not sought.
The Constitution gives the power to declare war to Congress, but the power to manage the armed forces to the president.