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Senators Struggle to Influence Libyan Conflict

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Sen. Bob Corker voted against a Foreign Relations Committee resolution offering limited Congressional approval for U.S. involvement in Libya.

“I don’t know the answer to that, and no one does,” Durbin said Tuesday of whether there are votes to approve a resolution. “What happened in the House of Representatives — it’s turned into a dog’s breakfast over there. God knows what their position is on this issue — to say we’re against authorizing it; we’re against defunding it. That’s why many presidents smile when they hear the words ‘War Powers Act.’”

The War Powers Act requires presidents to get Congressional approval for military campaigns that last more than 60 days, but many presidents have ignored the measure. Obama has said the U.S. involvement in Libya does not rise to the level of needing War Powers Act approval from Congress.

In its afternoon session, the panel adopted four of five amendments proposed by ranking member Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), one of the first and most vocal opponents of American engagement in Libya and a mentor to Obama on foreign policy when the president was still in the Senate.

The approved Lugar provisions would prohibit the deployment of ground forces to Libya; require the administration to report on the costs and impact of engagement to Congress; specify that the War Powers Act applies to Libya and that further action requires authorization; and render a “sense of Congress” that postwar construction costs should fall to Libya and the Arab League nations that advocated NATO’s military intervention to prevent Gadhafi from killing civilians and protesters.

“The president does not have the authority to substitute his judgment for constitutional process when there is no emergency that threatens the United States and our vital interests,” Lugar said in the panel’s first hearing. “Under the Constitution, the Congress is vested with the authority to determine which, if any, of these circumstances justify the consequences of American military intervention.”

The Lugar amendments likely made the resolution more palatable for skeptics on Libya, such as Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who had co-sponsored a more critical measure with Corker but voted “aye” in Tuesday’s markup. Corker voted “no” on the amended resolution in committee.

“You cannot please everyone. The question is whether you can please the majority of people,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said.

Aides close to leadership say they will begin to whip the resolution in the closing days of this work period and were heartened that the 14-5 vote was not as close as they originally had anticipated.

Four Republicans voted with all Democrats to approve the resolution.

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