President Barack Obama might have gotten the best outcome he could hope for from the House on Friday, when the chamber refused to approve of U.S. involvement in Libya but stopped short of voting to limit funding for the operation.
A measure from Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) to restrict funding for military efforts in Libya was defeated, 180-238. That vote came just hours after the chamber rejected a resolution that would authorize military involvement in Libya for the next year.
However, Republican aides acknowledged that the bill only drew the opposition of 89 GOP lawmakers because many of them were wary of voting for anything that might be seen as a tacit approval of the U.S. mission. Rooney’s bill would restrict Obama from using funds for bombing raids and other aggressive actions. The U.S. would still be able to engage in search and rescue, planning and intelligence roles in the region under the measure.
“I don’t think the Constitution gives us the ability to only partially authorize war against the country,” Rep. Scott Garrett said of Rooney’s bill.
The New Jersey Republican noted that Members, “have pretty strongly held views” on the issue of Libya, and that there was much discussion on Rooney’s proposal in the lead up to the Friday afternoon vote.
Garrett also said the outcome was not a total shock.
“I was surprised only to the extent that when a bill comes to the floor, 99 out of 100 times it’ll pass,” Garrett said. “But (Speaker John) Boehner let the will of the House prevail and I’m not sure he was upset with the outcome because it’s a divisive issue.”
In a statement, Rooney expressed his disappointment.
“This was a vote to defund military action in Libya and ensure that we do not put boots on the ground,” he said. “It was a chance for the House to stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law, and I think it’s very unfortunate that Members of the House abdicated that responsibility.”
Earlier Friday, the House rejected an approval resolution sponsored by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.). The measure mirrored one put forth by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), who have been strong in their support of Obama despite criticism that he has not consulted Congress on the issue.
Republicans, and some Democrats, have contended that Obama should have sought Congressional approval to join a NATO-led military effort in Libya, and have blasted him for not doing so. However, the White House has contended that the mission in Libya is led by NATO, not the United States, and represents little danger to U.S. service members.
Still, by refusing to approve the mission, the message from the House was one largely of rebuke. That resolution would have authorized military involvement in Libya for the next year.
The Hastings measure fell on a 123-295 vote. That vote came one day after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton tried to rally Democrats to support the resolution, but not all Members of the president’s party heeded the call. In total, 115 Democrats voted in favor of the resolution and 70 against.
Democrats came out more strongly against the effort to limit funds for the operation, with 149 of them essentially voting with Obama.
Since March, the U.S. and NATO allies have been engaged in bombing missions against the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The effort is intended to prevent the government from killing civilians and protesters in what has now become a civil war in the North African country.