WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives sent President Barack Obama a strong bipartisan message Friday that it is frustrated and impatient with the U.S. military mission in Libya.
The House voted 295-123 to deny congressional consent for extending the 3-month-old effort for another year, a clear rebuke to Obama.
But the House would not take the extra step of denying funding for the mission. A bid led by Rep. Thomas Rooney, R-Fla., to cut off money for all but search and rescue, intelligence, aerial refueling and non-combat operations got bipartisan support, but lost on a 238-180 vote; 144 Republicans and 36 Democrats supported the restrictions.
The votes mean that U.S. involvement in the NATO-led effort to prevent Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from crushing his people can continue. But the emotional, half-day debate illustrated the discontent that many lawmakers and their constituents feel about the mission, similar to their reservations about the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
White House press secretary Jay Carney voiced dismay.
“We are disappointed by that vote. We think now is not the time to send the kind of mixed message that it sends when we are working with our allies to achieve the goals that we believe that are widely shared in Congress … protecting civilians in Libya, enforcing a no-fly zone, enforcing an arms embargo and further putting pressure on Gadhafi. And the writing is on the wall for Col. Ga dhafi, and now is not the time to let up.”
Democratic House leaders had pressed for the legislation to authorize the Libya mission for one more year, while barring most U.S. ground troops. In all, 70 Republicans and 225 Democrats voted against it. The Senate is expected to consider a similar measure early next month, and Democratic leaders there expect it to pass.
The breadth of the bipartisan coalition against the Libya mission was striking. Longtime liberal war critic Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, called the U.S. mission a “distraction,” while Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, argued, “We have no business being in Libya.”
Others railed about the cost — estimated by the White House at $716 million as of June 3.
“We’re broke,” said Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark. Extending U.S. involvement “could result in billions of dollars by the American taxpayer we just can’t afford,” he said.
But it was clearly hard for a lot of other doubting Democrats to vote against Obama. They maintained that the mission was consistent with the U.S. role as part of an international coalition, and that Obama should be given one more year to complete it.
Efforts to limit the president, said Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., are little more than Republican efforts to embarrass Obama.
“They want to continue to play games with U.S. national security,” Berman said.
Lawmakers from both parties are also frustrated because Obama hasn’t personally briefed Congress about his intentions in Libya. Lawmakers want the White House to comply with the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which no president has ever acknowledged as binding. The law requires a president to seek congressional approval within 60 days of the start of any conflict. If that approval is not granted, U.S. involvement is to end within 30 days.
Obama informed Congress of his intentions in Libya just before U.S. forces got involved in March. Last week, it advised Congress that “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.” Therefore, the White House maintained, the Libya mission isn’t subject to the War Powers Resolution’s purview of “hostilities.”
House Minority Steny Hoyer, D-Md., wasn’t pleased.
“I do believe that President Obama could and should have done a better job of consulting with Congress at the outset of hostilities. I do believe that our armed forces are engaged in hostilities,” he said Friday. “But I also believe that … the president’s consultation with Congress has been comprehensive and respectful of Congress’s role and responsibility.”
Many of his colleagues disagreed.
“The question for me is it illegal or not. … The president continues to be in violation of the War Powers Resolution,” Griffin said. “What’s so hard about coming to the House and consulting with the Congress?”