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Libyan Conflict Begins to Fracture Senate

File Photo
A resolution backing the United States’ military action in Libya authored by Sens. John Kerry (right) and John McCain has begun to lose support in the Senate.

Just like the House before it, the Libyan conflict began to splinter the Senate this week as support diminished for a nonbinding resolution expressing approval for U.S. military action in the war-torn North African country.

The authors of that resolution, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.), said they were not sure whether the Foreign Relations Committee would be able to proceed with a markup of their bill. The panel had been scheduled to consider it Thursday, but the Senators canceled it when it became clear they did not have the votes for passage.

Instead, the Obama administration will conduct a classified briefing on Libya for Members on Thursday. Kerry indicated that Senators’ reaction to the briefing could determine the way forward.

“What I think it will create is perhaps some clarity about what we need or don’t need to do,” he said.

Foreign Relations ranking member Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) published an opinion piece in Monday’s Washington Post criticizing the Kerry-McCain resolution and urging the Senate to follow the House in approving a tougher measure that calls on the White House to provide a justification for U.S. military involvement in Libya within two weeks. The U.S. has been conducting airstrikes in Libya for more than two months as part of a NATO-led operation to enforce a no-fly zone and arms embargo. Protests earlier this year evolved into a civil war where rebels are battling forces loyal to dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Reaction to Lugar’s article motivated Democrats on Foreign Relations to reassess their view of the Kerry-McCain resolution, forcing the committee chairman to cancel the markup. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) joined fellow committee member Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) in authoring a new binding resolution intended to more closely mirror the House bill. The Webb-Corker resolution was introduced Wednesday afternoon.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a close ally of President Barack Obama and a Foreign Relations member, also pulled his support for Kerry-McCain. In a Wednesday morning TV interview, he announced that he intended to support a new measure authored by Foreign Relations member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). Cardin’s office declined to comment on their measure.

However, a Democratic aide said Cardin’s bill was likely to be written as a “joint resolution” that addresses U.S. military involvement in Libya. Kerry could throw his support behind this new resolution, the aide added.

Sen. Bob Menendez, another Foreign Relations member, illustrated the state of indecision and flux on the Libya issue that has enveloped the Senate since the chamber returned from its Memorial Day break.

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