Braley sets himself apart on Libya policy

Among Iowa’s Congressional delegation, Democrat Bruce Braley (IA-01) continues to be the only consistent voice against President Barack Obama’s military intervention in Libya. Since shortly after the U.S. joined NATO air strikes against Libyan targets, Braley has demanded a full cost accounting of our country’s third major military conflict, as well as details on an exit strategy. When the U.S. House considered two Libya resolutions on June 3, all five Iowan representatives voted for a toothless option criticizing the administration’s actions. However, only Braley voted for a stronger resolution that would have required the U.S. to withdraw from NATO operations in Libya within 15 days.

After the votes, Braley criticized the White House for giving “nothing but vague explanations” about our Libya intervention. Meanwhile, Republican Tom Latham (IA-04) and Democrats Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) made no public statement on Friday’s House votes, in keeping with their reluctance to comment on Libya during the past two months. In a June 3 press release, Representative Steve King called on Obama to give Americans more “answers” about the intervention. King’s votes and public statements about Libya don’t make clear where he stands on this conflict, though, or on the president’s power to conduct war without Congressional consent.

Details on the Libya resolutions are after the jump, along with some analysis of recent comments from Braley and King.

Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has been one of the loudest anti-war voices in Congress during the past decade. The resolution he submitted last month about Libya was short and sweet:


Directing the President, pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution, to remove the United States Armed Forces from Libya.

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring),


Pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1544(c)), Congress directs the President to remove the United States Armed Forces from Libya by not later than the date that is 15 days after the date of the adoption of this concurrent resolution. END

Many House Republicans have expressed concern that Obama took the U.S. into Libya without Congressional authorization. As Washington’s rumor mill indicated that the Kucinich resolution might draw enough support to pass, House Speaker John Boehner drafted a weaker resolution (full text here). A June 2 statement from Boehner’s office outlined the goals of his alternative and what he viewed as perils of the Kucinich option:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) unveiled a House resolution today on Libya that (1) establishes that the president has not asked for congressional authorization, and that the Congress has not granted it; (2) reasserts Congress’ constitutional role on funding; (3) requires the president to provide within 14 days information on the mission that should have been provided from the start; and (4) reaffirms the vote we took last week that says there should be no troops on the ground.  Boehner released the following statement:

“The American people and members on both sides of the aisle are concerned about questions that have gone unanswered regarding our mission in Libya.  The President has failed to explain to the nation how this military action is consistent with U.S. national security goals and policy.  In fact, this Administration has committed American resources to enforcing a U.N. resolution that is inconsistent with our stated policy goals and national interests when it comes to removing Muammar Qadafi from power.  The resolution we will vote on tomorrow will enable members to clearly express the will of our constituents — in a responsible way that reflects our commitments to our allies and our troops.

“The Kucinich measure would have long-term consequences that are unacceptable, including a precipitous withdrawal from our role supporting our NATO allies in Libya – which could have serious consequences for our broader national security.  It would undermine our troops in harm’s way and undercut our allies who have stood by us in Afghanistan and other areas abroad.  Regardless of how we got here, we cannot suddenly turn our backs on our troops and our NATO partners who have stuck by us for the last 10 years.”

Boehner’s line about “the vote we took last week” refers to the Defense Authorization bill, which included an amendment specifically prohibiting the use of funds for U.S. ground troops in Libya. Braley, Loebsack, Boswell and Latham voted for that amendment, while King was one of only five House members to vote no.

Boehner depicted his resolution as a way to reassert the role of Congress, but I think David Dayen got it right when he summed up the real impact here:

Boehner’s resolution:

1) declares that no ground troops shall enter Libya, something that the House already voted for 416-5 in the defense authorization bill;

2) forces the President to transmit communications and a report about the mission in Libya within 14 days, justifying the mission, the objectives, and the reason the President didn’t go to Congress for authorization;

3) findings that:

(a) “The President has not sought, and Congress has not provided, authorization for the introduction or continued involvement of the United States Armed Forces in Libya.”

(b) “Congress has the constitutional prerogative to withhold funding for any unauthorized use of the United States Armed Forces, including for unauthorized activities regarding Libya.”

So the resolution says, you can keep waging war in Libya, but don’t do this thing we already banned, write a term paper, and we could totally withhold funding next time for this illegal thing you’re doing!

The House considered Boehner’s resolution first on June 3. It passed by a 268 to 145 vote (roll call). Latham and King voted yes, as did all but 10 House Republicans. Braley, Loebsack and Boswell were among the 45 House Democrats to support this resolution; so was Kucinich, incidentally.  

Kucinich had House members from both parties speak in favor of his resolution, but it failed by a 148 to 265 vote (roll call). Remarkably, 87 Republican yes votes outnumbered the 61 Democrats who supported Kucinich’s effort. (I imagine many more House Democrats would have objected if President George W. Bush had launched air strikes in Libya without seeking permission from Congress.) As I mentioned above, Braley was the only Iowan in the House to vote for this resolution. Later on June 3, his office released this statement (emphasis in original):

“I support both of these resolutions and the sentiments of both Speaker Boehner and Congressman Kucinich because I’m very concerned about our country being involved in three overseas conflicts when our military and our budget are stretched so very thin. For the past three months, we’ve heard nothing but vague explanations from the White House about what our involvement in Libya looks like. I believe the American people and all U.S. taxpayers deserve to hear exactly how much this conflict is costing us. I also believe the President owes us a very clear mission statement and exit strategy for our involvement in that country.”

Latham, Boswell and Loebsack didn’t release any comments on the June 3 votes, which wasn’t surprising. Although Loebsack sits on the House Armed Services Committee, he was slow to react to the Libya intervention, making his first public comments on the matter about 10 days after NATO launched air strikes.

King’s press release from June 3 was uncharacteristically ambiguous:

King: The President Owes Americans Answers on Libya

King supports House Resolution to Require Detailed Report from President Regarding U.S. Involvement in Libya

Washington D.C.- Congressman Steve King (R-IA) released the following statement after voting in favor of a resolution introduced by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to require President Obama to provide Congress with a detailed description of the national security interests that justify American military involvement in Libya and to provide information about the objectives, scope, anticipated duration, cost, and diplomatic implications of our military involvement there. The resolution also requires the President to provide Congress with detailed information about the Libyan opposition rebels who have risen up to challenge the dictatorial rule of Moammar Gadhafi. The Boehner resolution, H. Res. 292, passed the House of Representatives this afternoon by a vote of 268-145-1.

“Neither the American people nor Congress can be expected to support an engagement about which they have been given no substantive information regarding its objectives, costs, or consequences, ” said King. “Speaker Boehner’s resolution reflects this principle by requiring the President to make the case for his decision to commit our armed forces to combat operations in Libya. The resolution requires that the President produce for Congress information about the scope of our military involvement, the implications of it, and the goals that are to be achieved. We agree that we are against Gadhafi, but the President has not made the case as to who the rebels that we are supporting actually are, and what kind of government they would bring about. Today’s House vote will put added pressure on the President to make his case to the American people.”

Rarely does Steve King leave you guessing about where he stands on an issue, but if he has an opinion about whether the U.S. should be intervening militarily in Libya, I can’t tell what it is. Nathan Tucker of The Iowa Republican blog tried to make sense out of King’s position here:

When the U.S. House passed the 2012 Defense Authorization Bill before leaving for Memorial Day weekend, it included an amendment that denied funding for the use of ground forces in Libya except if the purpose is “limited solely to rescuing members of the United States Armed Forces from imminent danger.”

Every member of Iowa’s House delegation, regardless of party, voted for the amendment, save for Congressman King.  His vote appears odd, given that he told WHO Radio’s Jan Mickelson on March 23rd that if the mission is “expanded in scope or if there are going to be troops on the ground, then the president needs to go to Congress and get our consent.”  Again, on March 25th, he told Mickelson that “if it’s a longer operation and expands, then that is something he has to come to Congress for.”

Why, then, did Congressman King vote against the only sure measure that will compel President Obama to seek congressional authority before committing ground forces in Libya?  Because, Rep. King told The Iowa Republican (TIR) in an exclusive interview earlier this week, “it is not Congress’ job to micro-manage war.”  Instead, “Congress should give deference to the Commander-in-Chief when he is acting as the Commander-in-Chief.”  If authorizing a ground war is “micro-managing,” it is unclear what role, if any, King would leave to Congress.

Congressman King stated that he did not favor ground forces in Libya, nor did he think that Obama would introduce boots on the ground there.  When asked, however, if Obama would need to seek prior congressional authorization before introducing ground forces, King replied only that authorization would be needed at some point, though not necessarily before troops are committed. […]

Congressman King’s vote [for Boehner’s resolution on June 3] appears strange because the resolution states that “the President shall not deploy, establish, or maintain” ground forces in Iraq, congressional action King had decried as “micro-managing” in Rep. Conyer’s amendment to the 2012 defense budget.  When asked about this, King’s office “distinguished the Conyers’ amendment as a binding funding prohibition of ground troops for the entirety of the next fiscal year, while the Boehner resolution simply states the House’s position that the President not deploy ground forces in Libya, without completely tying the Commander-in-Chief’s hands through a funding prohibition.”

In other words, Congressman King is fine with Congress opining on the wisdom of a ground invasion, but actually enforcing that opinion is “micro-managing.”  So much for Congress’ constitutionally-delegated power to “declare war.”

King often describes himself as a “Constitutional conservative,” so I’m surprised he hasn’t staked out a more coherent position on the Obama administration’s actions in Libya. Few Congressional powers are more important than the power to declare war.

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