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Inquiry Resolutions Serve Mixed Purposes

Those patterns make Cole’s resolutions of inquiry something of an anomaly since he is a majority party Member. Moreover, his resolutions are directed at Cabinet secretaries instead of the president — the official charged by the War Powers Act with consulting with Congress before committing troops to hostilities.

Although both committees reported favorably on Cole’s resolution, the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report expressed skepticism about its necessity: “In light of the already robust oversight by the Committee on Foreign Affairs of developments in Libya and U.S.-Libya policy, before and after the recent intervention in Libya, it is unclear that the documentation sought by the resolution would add to Congressional understanding of these issues.”

Perhaps that example helps to explain the CRS’ curious finding that while the requested information was produced in 30 percent of the instances in which resolutions of inquiry were introduced, it is not clear that any resolutions were directly responsible for its production. That’s essentially the Foreign Affairs Committee’s point about Cole’s requested information.

Nevertheless, Cole can still claim some credit for reminding Congress of its war powers responsibilities for Libya. On Friday, those efforts bore fruit when the House adopted a hybrid, sense of the House/quasi-inquiry resolution by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and soundly rejected a nonbinding Libya withdrawal resolution by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). The Speaker’s resolution not only hortatively barred U.S. ground troops from Libya but directed the president to report to Congress in 14 days on 21 matters of fact, estimate and opinion about the operation. Cole’s consultation language was also folded into the resolution. Congress may not yet be decisive on war with Libya, but it is increasingly restive.

Don Wolfensberger is director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.

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