Iowa delegation split in latest House votes on Libya

U.S. House members lack consensus on the three-month-old military intervention in Libya, and so do Iowa’s five representatives to that body, judging from two votes taken on June 24. Details on the failed attempts to either authorize or defund our mission in Libya are after the jump.

A resolution offered by Democrat Alcee Hastings of Florida was the first to come to a vote Friday. It would have authorized “the limited use of the United States Armed Forces in support of the NATO mission in Libya.” It also called on the president to

consult frequently with Congress regarding United States efforts in Libya, including by providing regular briefings and reports as requested, and responding to inquiries promptly. Such briefings and reports shall include the following elements:

(1) An updated description of United States national security interests in Libya.

(2) An updated statement of United States policy objectives in Libya, both during and after Qaddafi’s rule, and a detailed plan to achieve them.

(3) An updated and comprehensive list of the activities of the United States Armed Forces in Libya.

(4) An updated and detailed assessment of the groups in Libya that are opposed to the Qaddafi regime, including potential successor governments.

(5) A full and updated explanation of the President’s legal and constitutional rationale for conducting military operations in Libya consistent with the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1541 et seq.).

This resolution fell way short of passing, with just 123 votes in favor and 295 against (roll call). Steve King (IA-05) was one of eight Republicans to support this resolution. Leonard Boswell (IA-03) was among the 115 Democrats who voted yes. Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) were among the 70 Democrats to vote no, and Tom Latham (IA-04) also voted no, as did House Republican leaders and most of the GOP caucus.

The House then considered a bill sponsored by Republican Tom Rooney of Florida to “limit the use of funds appropriated to the Department of Defense for United States Armed Forces in support of North Atlantic Treaty Organization Operation Unified Protector with respect to Libya, unless otherwise specifically authorized by law.” The bill included exceptions for funds spent on search and rescue, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, aerial refueling and operational planning. Rooney’s bill failed by a 180 to 238 vote (roll call). Braley was one of 36 House Democrats to vote yes; Loebsack and Boswell voted no, along with most of the Democratic caucus. Latham was one of 144 Republicans to vote yes, including most of the House leadership team. King was one of 89 Republicans to vote against defunding the Libya operation.

To sum up, Braley and Latham voted against authorizing the Libya intervention and for defunding it.

Loebsack voted against authorizing the intervention and against defunding it.

King and Boswell voted for authorizing the intervention and against defunding it.

To my knowledge, only Braley has commented publicly on Friday’s House votes. From his June 24 press release:

“Today I voted to limit the President’s authority to engage our country in a third overseas conflict. To date, Libya has cost us $800 million – and we’re looking at projected military costs totaling more than $1 billion through September of this year. That’s a lot of money that we could be spending on priorities here at home. I don’t think we can afford to be engaged in Libya right now, and if the President feels differently, I think it’s time he come to Congress and make his case for this war.”

Molly Hooper reported that many House members were surprised by the strange bedfellows on the Libya votes. Neither Democratic nor Republican House leaders whipped members on either of the Libya votes, but insiders from both parties had expected the legislation restricting funds to pass.

Perhaps Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s June 23 meeting with “scores of House Democrats” persuaded many not to vote for the bill that would have cut off most funding. The day before that meeting, Clinton engaged in some shameful posturing, asking rhetorically at a press conference, “whose side are you on? Are you on Qadhafi’s side or are you on the side of the aspirations of the Libyan people and the international coalition that has been created to support them? ” It wasn’t so long ago that Senator Hillary Clinton said she was “sick and tired” of Bush administration officials questioning the patriotism of those who disagree with administration policy.

By failing to authorize the U.S. mission in Libya, Congress leaves open questions about whether our involvement there is legal. The White House sent Congress a report earlier this month asserting that the War Powers Resolution does not apply to this situation. Excerpt:

The President is of the view that the current U.S. military operations in Libya are consistent with the War Powers Resolution and do not under that law require further congressional authorization, because U.S. military operations are distinct from the kind of “hostilities” contemplated by the Resolution’s 60 day termination provision. U.S. forces are playing a constrained and supporting role in a multinational coalition, whose operations are both legitimated by and limited to the terms of a United Nations Security Council Resolution that authorizes the use of force solely to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under attack or threat of attack and to enforce a no-fly zone and an arms embargo. U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors.

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