The House on Friday resoundingly rejected a measure that would have authorized the United States’ mission in Libya, with 70 Democrats deserting President Obama on an issue that has divided their party and became a major Constitutional flash point between Congress and the White House.
The resolution — one of two the House took up Friday — failed 295 to 123, with an overwhelming majority of Republicans voting no. Only eight Republicans supported the measure, which was based on a Senate measure introduced Tuesday by Senators John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and John McCain, Republican of Arizona, that has yet to be voted on. (See how all the members voted.)
Over the last few months, there has been increasing hostility toward the Obama administration in the House among both Democrats who oppose the war and many Republicans, who cite Constitutional issues, over the president’s refusal to seek authorization from Congress for the operations in Libya. They say such authorization is required by the 1973 War Powers Resolution.
Under that law, presidents must terminate unauthorized deployments 60 days after notifying Congress that they have begun. If what the United States military is doing in Libya constitutes “hostilities” — the administration argues that it does not — then that deadline passed on May 20.
The House then quickly moved to debate a second resolution, sponsored by Representative Thomas Rooney, Republican of Florida, that would prohibit the use of money for military operations in Libya, allowing financing only for support operations like search and rescue, aerial refueling, operational planning, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — essentially requiring an end to direct American combat activity like missile strikes. The measure, which has the support of Republican leadership, was intended to severely limit America’s role while not completely leaving NATO allies in the lurch.
The Senate, controlled by Democrats, is not expected to pass such a measure and therefore it is unlikely to have any practical effect on the Libyan operations. Still, the measure would send a strong signal to Mr. Obama that he lacked full Congressional support, reflecting in large part a nation weary of war.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with scores of House Democrats and urged them to vote against the defunding resolution, insisting the collective effort in Libya was close to ousting the nation’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. In emphatic language, Mrs. Clinton warned them that a resolution to bar money for Libya would be disastrous to American interests in that war-torn nation, said some of the 60 or so Democrats who attended.
“The secretary was there to make the case on behalf of the administration on why they want to continue the war,” said Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, one of the attendees. He added: “It would appear inside the caucus that there is a split on this, and I think the fact that the secretary came over tells you a couple things. One, that the White House is very concerned about the vote, and second, that there is a sudden awareness that the fact that the administration has ignored Congress may carry with it a price.”
Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, said that while Mrs. Clinton “did a really good job of making the administration’s case,” Ms. Woolsey was ultimately not swayed to support the activities in Libya. “She did what the White House should have been doing all along, which is come to us, talk about the situation, tell us what their perspective is, and have a conversation,” Ms. Woolsey said.
A bipartisan group of representatives will also offer an amendment to a Pentagon appropriations bill, which may be voted on as early as Friday, which would further cut funding for intelligence and operational support in Libya, and end all activities by October. It is not clear how much support that measure would have if the more limited resolution offered by Mr. Rooney passes.