Stale­mate on Hill grants Obama free hand on Libya war

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Capi­tol Hill is keen to shape or even halt Pres­i­dent Obama’s troop de­ploy­ment to Libya, but lawmakers’ own in­abil­ity to set­tle on a uni­fied stance is un­der­min­ing their ef­forts and leav­ing the pres­i­dent with a free hand to pur­sue the war his own way.

The House stale­mated three weeks ago, fail­ing to pass lim­its on Mr. Obama’s ac­tions in Libya. Mean­while, in the Se­nate, Demo­cratic lead­ers can­celed a Libya de­bate planned for last week and in­stead turned to sym­bolic tax leg­is­la­tion.

That grid­lock means Mr. Obama re­mains unchecked in his de­ploy­ment of U.S. forces to sup­port the NATO mis­sion in Libya and to con­duct airstrikes in sup­port of rebels op­pos­ing Col. Moam­mar Gad­hafi’s gov­ern­ment.

“There was noth­ing we were go­ing to do this week in the Se­nate that in any way af­fected what was ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing in Libya. Noth­ing. And ev­ery­body knew that,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Ten­nessee Repub­li­can, ex­plain­ing to re­porters this week why Repub­li­cans in­sisted on de­bat­ing debt and spend­ing rather than tak­ing up the Libya mat­ter in the Se­nate.

Com­pound­ing mat­ters, the Se­nate and House ap­pear un­likely to speak with a uni­fied voice any­way. The Se­nate is more in­clined to sup­port a mis­sion in Libya, while House lawmakers clearly lean the other way, in­clud­ing a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber who want to end Amer­i­can in­volve­ment al­to­gether.

In the House de­bate in June, only two op­tions were on the ta­ble: ap­prove Mr. Obama’s mis- war op­er­a­tion en­tirely, and he said it’s likely col­leagues will of­fer their own amend­ments.

Mr. Kucinich said know­ing the spend­ing fight was loom­ing, many House mem­bers were wait­ing for the full cut-off op­tion, which is why they voted against the mea­sure two weeks ago to limit the war.

“I think there’s a strong ma­jor­ity in the House that was not only

Com­pound­ing mat­ters, the Se­nate and House ap­pear un­likely to speak with a uni­fied voice any­way. The Se­nate is more in­clined to sup­port a mis­sion in Libya, while House lawmakers clearly lean the other way, in­clud­ing a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber who want to end Amer­i­can in­volve­ment al­to­gether.

sion es­sen­tially as is, or limit U.S. troops to a true sup­port role, with no air strikes. The for­mer gained just 123 votes of sup­port, while the lat­ter gar­nered 180 votes, which is sev­eral dozen shy of a ma­jor­ity.

The House will try again this week to find com­mon ground.

Rep. Den­nis J. Kucinich, Ohio Demo­crat and a lead­ing anti-war law­maker, said he’ll of­fer an amend­ment to de­fund the Libyan op­posed to what the ad­min­is­tra­tion did, but I think there’s a strong ma­jor­ity to cut off funds,” he said. “The vote that we had 10 days ago — the divi­sion within the mem­ber­ship was chiefly on whether the amend­ment was strong enough.”

The Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee two weeks ago, on a 14-5 bi­par­ti­san vote, ap­proved a res­o­lu­tion au­tho­riz­ing con­tin­ued strikes in Libya.

That res­o­lu­tion was sup­posed to be de­bated on the Se­nate floor last week, but Demo­cratic lead­ers, bow­ing to pres­sure from Mr. Obama and Repub­li­cans, with­drew it and in­stead turned to debt ne­go­ti­a­tions.

That’s just fine with some lawmakers who said leav­ing Mr. Obama with a free hand is the best op­tion.

“I don’t care if we ever bring this up,” Sen. Lind­sey Graham, South Carolina Repub­li­can who has ad­vo­cated a ro­bust mil­i­tary pol­icy, told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

He said the pres­i­dent spawned an “open re­bel­lion” in the House by not con­sult­ing more with Congress and by tak­ing what Mr. Graham called a half-in, half-out ap­proach. But he said Mr. Obama’s han­dling should not push lawmakers away from aid- ing NATO al­lies and try­ing to pre­serve progress in what has be­come known as the Arab Spring.

He also said hav­ing Congress man­age the war through res­o­lu­tions is un­con­sti­tu­tional, and bad pol­icy.

“It’s bet­ter to have one com­man­der in chief than it is to have 535,” Mr. Graham said. “The last thing I want to do is cre­ate a model that would ba­si­cally in­fringe on the com­man­der in chief, who­ever he or she may be, to pro­tect this coun­try. There is a rea­son Congress’ role is lim­ited to fund­ing and declar­ing war.”

Mr. Kucinich ac­knowl­edged a stale­mate in Congress but said pub­lic opin­ion, which is trend­ing against the war, will be­gin to con­strain Mr. Obama’s troop de­ploy­ment.

He also warned the White House not to in­ter­pret dis­parate votes in Congress as an en­dorse­ment.

“The fact that the House may be go­ing one way and the Se­nate an­other still does not con­sti­tute a de facto ap­proval of the war; as a mat­ter of fact, it’s the op­po­site,” he said. “They both have to con­cur and they don’t, so what you’re left with at the end is a war that’s not au­tho­rized, and a war that’s con­trary to the Con­sti­tu­tion of the United States.”

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