After weeks of postponing action on a Senate Libya resolution, Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday morning finally announced the introduction of a resolution of approval that would carry the force of law.
It was unclear whether the joint resolution will hit the floor before July 4, but Democratic sources said the legislation was scheduled for a markup in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee possibly this week. Kerry and McCain spent weeks wrangling over the language in the bill, and sources believe the legislation is now being introduced because it has sufficient support to be reported out of the Foreign Relations Committee.
The resolution would grant President Barack Obama Congressional approval to continue U.S. military involvement in Libya for one year. It does not explicitly preclude the use of ground troops, but the bill language gives a nod to the president’s stated policy that ground forces will not be deployed in the North African country.
“It is a bipartisan resolution, Democrats and Republicans joining together to put a very limited authorization with respect to our engagement in a support role, not any directing agent but a support role only, and it is limited to that support role,” Kerry said in remarks on the floor.
U.S. forces in Libya are participating in a NATO-led mission. The Obama administration has asserted that the conflict does not require Congressional approval under the War Powers Act because it is a limited mission that involves little danger to U.S. service members. But even lawmakers who support Obama’s Libya policy have expressed disagreement with that contention, making it likely that Congress will act in some fashion.
McCain said he would have preferred a more strongly worded resolution. But the Arizona Republican added that the bill he authored with Kerry was an important step forward and deserved to receive wide bipartisan support.
“I will be the first to admit that this authorization is not perfect and will not make everyone happy,” McCain said in floor remarks. “That said, this resolution has been a bipartisan effort. My Republican colleagues and I have had to make compromises.”
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is also considering another vote in the House on the conflict in Libya, but that is more likely to be a statement of disapproval or a rebuke of some sort. Already, the House passed a nonbinding resolution demanding that Obama offer a justification for U.S. participation in the NATO operation. Obama produced a report on that last week.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer indicated that he would not support legislation to defund the Libyan effort — a proposal being floated by House Republican lawmakers. The Maryland Democrat hailed Kerry and McCain for moving forward on their resolution and said a vote to defund the Libya effort would reflect poorly on the House.
A vote to prohibit the president from paying for U.S. operations in Libya “would undermine the confidence of NATO in the ability of the president of the United States to participate and support an effort that NATO had agreed to, United Nations had agreed to, and the Arab League had agreed to,” Hoyer said.
He added, “It is inconceivable to me that we would defund that effort at this point in time. Having said that, I welcome the Kerry-McCain effort.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.