In a toughly worded resolution which the House will vote on Friday, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is demanding that President Obama either seek congressional authorization to continue US involvement in the NATO-led Libyan operation or determine the best way to withdraw from the conflict. The resolution states that Obama failed to give Congress a “compelling rationale” for going to war and demanded he do so in writing in 14 days. The measure also calls for a ban on US ground forces in Libya except in cases where an American service member was in “imminent danger.”
The speaker is challenging Obama to comply with the War Powers Act, which requires the president to get congressional authorization 60 days following the commitment of troops to a military action. The authorization deadline passed last month. In addition to demanding a rationale for going to war, Boehner’s resolution supplies a list of 21 questions on Libya where the House is seeking clarification on the war, “including its goals and objectives, costs and justification for not seeking congressional authorization.”
Boehner’s measure was one of three resolutions introduced in the House – all expressing various degrees of opposition to the president’s actions in taking the US to war without consulting congress. Representative Michael Turner introduced a non-binding resolution that garnered considerable support, expressing disapproval of the Libyan adventure. And far-left Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s resolution calling for an immediate withdrawal of US forces was pulled from the floor at the last moment on Wednesday night because, according to Kucinich, there was a chance it might have passed. In fact, Boehner admitted as much when he told reporters, “I think we decided that the House wasn’t ready to decide the question.”
Passage of the resolution would have hugely embarrassed the president internationally, and may have had untoward consequences with our NATO allies. That’s the opinion of Defense Secretary Robert Gates who said through a spokesman that he “believes that for the United States, once committed to a NATO operation, to unilaterally abandon that mission would have enormous and dangerous long-term consequences.”
Boehner echoed those concerns in the Thursday meeting with GOP members, saying, according to ABC News, “The Kucinich measure will express our constituents’ angst, but it will also have long-term consequences I believe are unacceptable.” The speaker explained that NATO nations had stood fast with us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to abandon them in Libya would mean that the US would have “turned our backs against our NATO partners who have stuck by us for the last 10 years.”
Several members expressed the view that Boehner’s presentation on why voting for the Kucinich resolution would have harmed American interests convinced most of the caucus to vote for the speaker’s alternative. Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) said after the meeting that “He (Boehner) believes we shouldn’t try to make political points on foreign policy.”
Boehner felt it necessary to give his caucus an alternative to the resolution being offered by Kucinich which “directs the president to remove the United States armed forces from Libya by not later than the date that is 15 days after the date of the adoption” of the measure. Kucinich’s resolution would have eventually been voted on anyway because of its privileged status, so Boehner will bring it to the floor on Friday along with the GOP alternative.
Before all this legislative maneuvering on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tried to put the best face on a very touchy situation for the administration. He told reporters, “We believe that the policy is working,” Carney said. “We believe the goal the president has is shared by the majority of the members of Congress.” He added that the administration has “consulted Congress every step of the way.”
Carney did not mention what “policy” we were implementing in Libya, nor did he give any evidence that whatever that policy is, that it is working. With Gaddafi still in power (and no UN authorization to remove him), the rebels still unable to dislodge him, and the humanitarian cost of this humanitarian adventure rising daily in dead civilians and destroyed infrastructure, the failure of President Obama to articulate a clear national interest in assisting NATO in this intervention is starting to catch up to him. Also, the fact that the Kucinich resolution demanding an end to the Libyan mission might have passed raises questions about Carney’s statement that the president’s views on Libya are “shared by the majority” on the Hill.
Carney’s evasions point up the reason why Congress feels it is necessary to act. This sort of direct challenge to the president’s authority as Commander in Chief is very rare, but as Speaker Boehner pointed out, the president has only himself to blame. “I really do believe that the president needs to speak out, in terms of our mission in Afghanistan, our mission in Iraq, our mission in Libya and the doubts that our members have frankly — they are reflecting what they are hearing from their constituents,” said Boehner.
The speaker pointed out that there were several questions that the administration had failed to address, including, “How is this action consistent with U.S. national security and policy goals? Who are the opposition? How does Gaddafi go?” So far, the White House hasn’t felt it necessary to respond to those questions.
Leading Democrats think both the Kucinich and Boehner resolutions are unnecessary. Nancy Pelosi released a statement that said in part, “The resolutions by Speaker Boehner and Congressman Kucinich, as currently drafted, do not advance our efforts in the region and send the wrong message to our NATO partners.”
But the House Democratic leadership is in the minority. Members have come back from the Memorial Day recess having gotten an earful of complaints from their constituents about the 3 wars the US is currently fighting. And there is little doubt that many in the House view the administration’s refusal to ask for congressional authorization for the Libya operation as an arrogant affront to the separation of powers that gives Congress a voice in war-making. Support for the Kucinich withdrawal resolution gave voice to those feelings and Boehner did a good job in heading off what might have been a damaging statement of non-support by Congress for our troops and our alliances.
Can the president ignore Congress and the Boehner resolution if, as expected, it passes on Friday? There are many on the Hill who will shy away from a confrontation on the War Powers Act. Boehner himself believes that “technically,” the president is not in violation of the act. But if Obama gives the House the back of his hand, there is no telling what might happen. When asked what would happen if the White House doesn’t comply with the resolution, an aide to the speaker pointed out that when the 14 day deadline is reached, the defense appropriations bill will be on the floor at that time. If the GOP wishes, it could cut funding for the Libya operation then.
But that isn’t a likely outcome, given the consequences to our troops involved in the operation and the ill effect such a vote would have on our relationship with our NATO allies. Some members might go to court and try and force White House compliance with the War Powers Act, but it is even more unlikely that the courts will involve themselves in a dispute between the executive and legislative branches of government. In short, if the president fails to comply, it is likely that his arrogance will be rewarded and nothing will come of it.
Meanwhile, NATO has extended the Libyan mission another 90 days. But with Gaddafi showing little sign of weakening, and NATO still refusing to commit ground forces to oust him, it is probable when this 3 month extension is up, another will be forthcoming.