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Clinton Attempts to Rally Democrats Behind Libya Mission

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, shown attending a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday with Chairman John Kerry (left) and ranking member Dick Lugar, promoted U.S. military action in Libya in a meeting with House Democrats on Thursday.

Updated: 8:27 p.m.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton tried Thursday to win support from House Democrats for U.S. military involvement in Libya, one day before the chamber is expected to consider legislation that would rebuke the Obama administration on the issue.

Clinton addressed the Caucus in a special meeting at the White House’s request, but the former Senator and presidential candidate did not draw a roaring crowd. Several Members were not in attendance due to scheduling conflicts, and others avoided the meeting because they oppose Obama’s position on Libya.

“No desire to go to the Caucus. What’s to hear?” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) said. “I think what the president did — going into hostilities without going to Congress beyond the 60 days — is against the War Powers Act. It’s wrong, and we have to enforce it.”

Nadler’s position is similar to that of House Republicans, who have blasted Obama’s handling of the mission in Libya. Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and other GOP leaders argue Obama is required under the War Powers Act to seek Congressional approval for continued action in Libya. Obama has maintained that because U.S. forces are in a support role in the NATO-led effort, Congressional approval is not needed.

A Democratic aide contended that the meeting was positive and that Clinton presented a “compelling case” and encouraged Members to authorize the mission.

Rep. Keith Ellison, who attended the meeting, said Clinton was well-received and heard the concerns of several Caucus Members.

“I wish the administration would be a little more forthcoming,” the Minnesota Democrat said. “At the same time, I’m fairly convinced acting in Libya is the right thing to do.”

The chamber is poised to consider a pair of Libya-related measures Friday: One, sponsored by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), would impose strict funding limits for military operations, and another that mirrors a resolution from Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) would give Congressional approval to continue U.S. military involvement in Libya for one year. That resolution is not expected to pass in the House, and it is unclear how much support there is for the Rooney measure.

McCain took to the Senate floor Thursday to urge House Members not to limit funding for the Libya operation, saying the mission must still be carried out despite Obama’s lack of consultation with Congress.

“Is this the time for Congress to declare to the world — to [Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi] and his inner circle, to Gadhafi’s opponents who are fighting for their freedom and to our NATO allies, who are carrying a far heavier burden in this conflict than we are — is this the time for America to tell all of these people that our heart is not in this, that we won’t see this mission through, that we will abandon our best friends and allies on a whim?” he asked.

Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Dick Lugar intends to offer five amendments that would restrict the Kerry-McCain resolution, his office announced Thursday. The committee is scheduled to take up the resolution next week. The Indiana Republican’s amendments would prohibit the use of ground forces in Libya; narrowly define the U.S. military’s role in the operation; require periodic reports on the mission’s costs; specify that the War Powers Act applies to the Libya operation; and express the sense of Congress that Libya and Arab League nations are primarily responsible for reconstruction costs.

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