Bloomberg News

U.S. House Seeks Libya Explanation From Obama Amid ‘War Fatigue’

June 04, 2011

June 4 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. House of Representatives, reflecting what one Republican termed “war fatigue” along with puzzlement over the U.S. military’s role in Libya, is demanding a fuller explanation for the mission from President Barack Obama.

In a bipartisan vote, the House yesterday adopted Speaker John Boehner’s resolution that directs Obama to describe “in detail” the U.S. “security interests and objectives” for supporting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s bombing campaign against Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

The resolution, approved 268-145, was an alternative to Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich’s proposal to force the end of U.S. support for the mission in 15 days. The House defeated Kucinich’s measure, 148-265.

The proposal by Kucinich, long a critic of U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, gained enough bipartisan momentum that it mobilized Boehner to offer his alternative. Passage of Boehner’s resolution spared Obama from the constraints that Kucinich’s measure would have imposed.

“The speaker is the biggest friend the president has right now, because he’s willing to give him some time” to explain the U.S. involvement in Libya, Louisiana Republican Representative Jeff Landry, who voted for both resolutions, said in an interview.

The resolution by Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said the president “has failed to provide Congress with a compelling rationale based upon” national security interests for U.S. involvement in the bombing campaign against Qaddafi.

Not ‘Far Enough’

Voicing the frustration of colleagues who question U.S. involvement in Libya, Indiana Republican Representative Dan Burton said he would vote for Boehner’s resolution, “but it doesn’t go far enough.”

Burton said he preferred Kucinich’s resolution, which he co-sponsored, because it “tells the president” that “you cannot take us to war without the consent of the people of this country.”

Impatience with U.S. military involvement overseas also surfaced last week in the narrow margin -- 204 in favor, 215 against -- of the House defeat of an amendment that would have directed Obama to submit an accelerated timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

In March 2010, Kucinich received only 65 votes for his proposal to direct Obama to draft a faster timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Yesterday, 87 Republicans and 61 Democrats supported Kucinich’s resolution. Boehner’s alternative was supported by 45 Democrats and was opposed by 10 Republicans.

‘What We Are Doing’

A combination of “war fatigue” plus many members “having trouble seeing what we are doing in Libya” forced the issue to the floor, Ohio Republican Representative Steve LaTourette said in an interview.

Texas Republican Ted Poe, who also voted for both resolutions, said the cost of the U.S. mission in Libya -- at least $600 million -- is “one of the issues” troubling lawmakers. So is the belief that European powers and members of the African Union should deal with Libya “if they wish,” he said.

“But Uncle Sam foots the bills for not only our wars but the wars of other countries,” Poe said in an interview.

Representative Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts, cited “an increasing recognition that reducing military expenditures is essential to overall deficit reduction.”

“The public is ready for a sensible recalculation of what America should and shouldn’t be doing internationally and militarily,” Frank said.

Constituents’ Concerns

In the floor debate, Boehner said that while “combat decisions should be left to the president,” the House “has an obligation to heed the concerns of our constituents” about the mission’s rationale.

Kucinich’s resolution “goes too far” because “we cannot turn our backs on our troops and our NATO partners,” Boehner said. The speaker said his resolution “puts the president on notice. He has the chance to get this right.”

At a news conference before the votes, Boehner said Congress was prepared to take “further action in the weeks to come,” though he declined to give details.

Withholding funds for U.S. air operations over Libya is “probably a good option” if Obama doesn’t comply with the House’s directive, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon, told reporters.

“What’s got everybody stirred up” is “kind of an arrogance” in Obama’s attitude that “Congress doesn’t really matter,” the California Republican said.

‘Wrong Message’

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California urged colleagues to vote against both resolutions, saying in a statement that they “do not advance our efforts in the region and send the wrong message to our NATO partners.”

Boehner’s resolution directs the administration, within two weeks, to describe “in detail United States security interests and objectives” in Libya.

The War Powers Resolution requires the president to formally notify Congress of U.S. military operations and get approval of any operation that lasts longer than 60 days.

In a May 20 letter to congressional leaders, Obama urged adoption of a Senate resolution to “confirm that the Congress supports the U.S. mission in Libya.” The Senate hasn’t acted yet on the bipartisan resolution.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest defended Obama’s consultations with Congress about Libya.

“It is the view of this administration that we’ve acted in accordance with the War Powers Act because of this regular consultation,” Earnest said. “That continued consultation demonstrates why these resolutions are unnecessary and unhelpful.”

--With assistance from Kate Andersen Brower in Toledo, Ohio. Editors: Laurie Asseo, Leslie Hoffecker

To contact the reporter on this story: James Rowley in Washington at jarowley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net


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