WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives voted Friday to harshly rebuke President Obama for continuing to maintain an American role in NATO operations in Libya without the express consent of Congress, and directed the administration to provide detailed information about the cost and objectives of the American role in the conflict.
The resolution, which passed 268 to 145, was offered by Speaker John Boehner to siphon off swelling Republican support for a measure sponsored by Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat, which calls for a withdrawal of the United States military from the air and naval operations in and around Libya.
The resolution criticizing the president passed with the support of 45 Democrats and all but 10 Republicans.
The measure from Mr. Kucinich, one of the most liberal members of the House, later failed by 148 to 265, with 87 Republicans voting in favor. [that is, with greater Republican than Democratic support] for the Kucinich resolution]
As a legislative matter, the resolution has no practical effect, and indeed is little more than an expression of opinion. A decision by the Supreme Court over two decades ago suggested that Congress is not empowered to enforce a resolution or other directive that, unlike a bill, the president has no chance to veto.
But as a political matter, the resolution was an unusually blunt confrontation of a president during an ongoing military conflict, and underscored a bipartisan distaste among members of Congress for being bypassed on the road to war.
The roughly two hour debate concerning both resolutions provided some interesting alliances among far left and hard right lawmakers, and a bit of role reversal in the discussion of executive power and the relevance of Libya to America’s vital interests.
“It seems the shoe is on the other foot,” said Representative Howard L. Berman, Democrat of California, noting that Republicans had accused Democrats of “cutting and running” on military operations in the past. Representative Jim Moran, a Democrat from Virginia, chided Republicans, saying “to tie the president’s hands is inconsistent with the legacy of this body, which is to do what is necessary to protect American interests.”
In contrast, Republican Representative Dan Burton, who voted for both measures, said, “We’re not going to go to war without the people of this country supporting it. The Boehner resolution I’m going to support, but it doesn’t go far enough.”
The United States is currently providing NATO with intelligence, logistical support and armed Predator drones in what is largely a bombing campaign against Libyan government forces. The administration has contended that it was within Mr. Obama’s power to initiate American participation in the hostilities without Congress because the combat was limited to an air offensive.
Last month, Mr. Obama sent a letter to Congress emphasizing that the United States had turned control of the operation over to NATO and that it was primarily providing support to allies.
The War Powers Resolution says that presidents must terminate hostilities after 60 days if they have not been authorized by Congress; that deadline passed on May 20 without an explanation to Congress from the administration detailing why it thinks it was lawful for the operation to continue.
This lack of explanation, following Mr. Obama’s failure to obtain Congressional authorization for the engagement at the outset, angered both the anti-war factions of his own party in Congress, and conservative Republicans seeking to rein in executive power and federal spending alike. An intense floor debate ensued Friday over the nature of the conflict in Libya, the country’s importance to American security interests and the role of Congress in authorizing military campaigns.
The Boehner resolution demands that the administration provide, within 14 days, detailed information about the nature, cost and objectives of the American contribution to the NATO operation, as well as an explanation for why the White House did not come to Congress for permission.
Members on both sides complained of war fatigue in their districts, and the reluctance of constituents to support the opening of yet another conflict, although some members stressed the importance of supporting an ongoing operation, even if they did not agree with how it started.
“It is not surprising that there is a desire to simply say, ‘enough,’” said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; she voted for Mr. Boehner’s resolution but against the one brought by Mr. Kucinich.