- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 7, 2011

The House on Thursday gave implicit approval to President Obama to continue his deployment of American military forces to support the NATO mission in Libya, turning back repeated efforts to end U.S. involvement.

But in a signal that there is some lingering discontent over the way Mr. Obama has handled the matter, the House did vote to cut off any military aid going to the rebels who are fighting the government of Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

“In Libya, the president has quite simply overreached,” said Rep. Tom Cole, the Oklahoma Republican who wrote the amendment limiting assistance the U.S. can provide to the rebels.

Taken together, the votes show the chamber remains uncertain how to handle Mr. Obama’s commitment of U.S. forces to aid NATO. The House has now rejected proposals that would have officially authorized Mr. Obama’s war, would have authorized a more limited support role but banned U.S. strikes, and would have ended all involvement.

With no consensus in the House, Mr. Obama retains a de-facto free hand to continue the deployment as he wants.

Mr. Obama’s backers said they were heartened the House failed to force U.S. troops to withdraw, but said cutting off aid to Libyan rebels was misguided.

“I am saddened by the abandonment of America’s traditional support for those struggling for freedom and democracy, which has been a hallmark of our Republican Party for decades,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

Mr. Obama deployed troops in March to first lead, then to support NATO’s efforts to establish a no-fly zone and conduct strikes to support the rebels. He said the mission was necessary to prevent Col. Gadhafi’s troops from slaughtering civilians.

Months later, U.S. warplanes and unmanned drones continue to strike targets in Libya even as the rebels and government forces are stalemated.

Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota Democrat, said the U.S. should accede to requests from the Libyans themselves, who he said are asking for greater NATO and American involvement.

“When people are being murdered wholesale, being ethnically cleansed, being targeted in genocide, the world including the United States must not, cannot stand back and watch,” Mr. Ellison said.

Thursday’s debate took place on the 2012 defense spending bill, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle offered repeated amendments they hoped would curtail American military action by preventing the administration from spending any money on it.

The first vote failed 229-199, and subsequent votes did even worse.

The House did pass an amendment requiring that all money spent under the bill be in accordance with the War Powers Resolution, though it was unclear whether that would restrict any activities.

The vote to cut off funding for military aid to the Libyan rebels passed 225-201, with most of the support coming from Republicans. Some reports have intimated links between the rebels and al Qaeda and other jihadist groups, though administration officials have downplayed those charges.

The Senate, meanwhile, seems to be headed toward giving proactive approval of Mr. Obama’s troop commitment in Libya. A test vote earlier this week was canceled, but could be back on the floor next week on a resolution authorizing the president to continue operations for up to a year.

That resolution was approved on a bipartisan 14-5 vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.

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