The situation in Libya quickly became a political firestorm in the House, with Democrats and Republicans attempting to force votes on a series of resolutions. A sizable coalition of Republicans and Democrats pushed Boehner to allow votes on defunding the Libyan effort and condemning the war.
At the same time, Boehner and many in the House and Senate were wary of completely tying Obama’s hands in how he handled Libya. In the end, Boehner split the difference, bringing a resolution of approval to the floor — which was easily defeated — followed by a vote on defunding most of the war effort, which was also defeated.
The gambit allowed lawmakers to make their concerns known while giving the White House the ability to continue operations — but with a clearly implied limitation on how long Congress would allow those operations to go on.
On trade issues, Boehner has also demonstrated an ability to navigate difficult international and domestic waters. He was able to push through a package of trade bills this month, but only after he and his leadership team cut a deal to move a trade assistance package that unions and the White House wanted. The deal allowed the bulk of his Members to vote against that bill, but it still ensured passage of the overall package.
On the question of China’s manipulation of its currency, Boehner has broken with many Members of his own party in explicitly ruling out taking up punitive measures, arguing it could prompt a trade war. Still, he hit the White House for not being more forceful on the issue.
“I think it’s a dangerous policy. And the fact of the matter is the president should stand up … where’s the leadership?” Boehner said Tuesday.
Boehner was also quite measured in his response to Obama’s announcement that, as the administration of George W. Bush had negotiated, all U.S. combat troops would be out of Iraq by the end of the year. The GOP presidential field and foreign policy heavyweights such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) attacked Obama, but Boehner took a far more nuanced approach.
“We must never forget the sacrifice of those who’ve served and all who will soon be making the journey home. And we owe it to them to continue engaging with the Iraqi government in a way that ensures our hard-fought gains translate into long-term success,” Boehner said in a statement.
“While I’m concerned that a full withdrawal could jeopardize those gains, I’m hopeful that both countries will work together to guarantee that a free and democratic Iraq remains a strong and stable partner for the United States in the Middle East,” he added.
Boehner’s concerns were a far cry from the criticisms of other Republicans, who accused Obama of playing politics. According to sources familiar with his thinking, during a trip to Iraq in April, Boehner met with local and military officials on the withdrawal. During those meetings, including with Iraqi President Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, Iraqi officials made it clear that they would like U.S. forces to remain in the country in a limited capacity but that internal political pressures would make that difficult.