House Speaker John Boehner called on President Barack Obama to “step up” and explain the reason for U.S. military involvement in Libya as Republican lawmakers considered resolutions opposing the mission.
Growing concern among House members about U.S. involvement in Libya and the long-term conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan reflects “what they are hearing from their constituents,” Boehner of Ohio told reporters today in Washington.
“The president really does need to step up and help the American people understand why these missions are vital to the national security interests of our country,” the speaker said.
House Republicans will meet in private later today to discuss several resolutions voicing disapproval of U.S. support for the bombing campaign in Libya by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to protect rebels and pressure dictator Muammar Qaddafi to step aside.
House leaders postponed a vote yesterday on a resolution that would direct the end of U.S. military involvement in Libya. Its sponsor, Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, said the resolution would have commanded a majority if put to a vote.
House leaders are crafting an alternative resolution that wouldn’t force withdrawal of U.S. troops, said a Republican aide who requested anonymity.
Two Republicans also have proposed resolutions on Libya. One, sponsored by Florida Representative Tom Rooney and 16 other Republicans, demands that Obama seek congressional approval or end U.S. involvement by June 19. The other, offered by Michael Turner of Ohio and more than 60 other Republicans, invokes the 1973 War Powers Resolution to disapprove of U.S. “intervention in Libya.”
‘A Bit Weary’
House members are “a bit weary about the amount of money we’ve spent in Iraq, in Afghanistan and that we are spending in Libya” and “are wondering what’s our national security interest,” said Boehner, who has supported Obama’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At his weekly news conference today, Boehner said he expected the issue to be resolved by tomorrow, when the House leaves for a one-week recess.
The vote on Kucinich’s resolution was put off because leaders “decided the House wasn’t ready to decide the question,” and that they would determine how to proceed after the closed-door meeting of Republican members, Boehner said yesterday.
The U.S. is supporting the NATO bombing campaign, which the organization yesterday extended for 90 days.
Impatience with prolonged U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan surfaced last week in the narrow margin of the 215- 204 House defeat of an amendment that would have directed Obama to submit an accelerated timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.
‘Usurpation’ of Power
Kucinich said his resolution was gaining support and would command a majority because Democrats and Republicans alike are frustrated with what he described as President Barack Obama’s “usurpation” of Congress’s war-making powers.
“Members are very concerned about the Constitution getting shredded by an administration that just took the country to war without going to Congress and is now in violation of the War Powers Act,” he told reporters yesterday.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said in an e-mail today that Defense Secretary Robert Gates “believes that for the United States, once committed to a NATO operation, to unilaterally abandon that mission would have enormous and dangerous long-term consequences.”
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 pending Senate resolution to “confirm that the Congress supports the U.S. mission in Libya.”
Boehner wrote Obama in March questioning how the Libya mission was consistent with U.S. national security and policy goals and asking about the operation’s objectives and end game. He said yesterday he believed that Obama had not “technically” violated the War Powers Act.
Kucinich said he was hearing from members of both parties who “are looking for an opportunity to reclaim Congress’s position.” Failure to challenge Obama would be “setting an historical precedent that is very dangerous,” he said.
Representative C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said that now is not the time to debate war-powers issues because Qaddafi is “a dangerous person who has already attacked” the U.S. by bombing Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988.
California Representative Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he opposes the Kucinich resolution because it would strengthen Qaddafi’s ability to keep power.
He said “a strengthened Qaddafi” would threaten the new governments of Tunisia and Egypt, where popular revolutions toppled authoritarian regimes earlier this year.
At the White House today, press secretary Jay Carney said, “We have consulted with Congress every step of the way since we have initiated this policy.”
The president has “done exactly what he said he would do” when he announced U.S. participation in the NATO-led campaign, Carney said.
U.S. forces haven’t been engaged on the ground in Libya. U.S. planes flew bombing missions over Libya after NATO intervened in February to enforce a United Nations resolution to protect rebels from attacks by troops loyal to Qaddafi. The U.S. has since turned over command of military operations to NATO and is playing a support role in the mission.
--With assistance from Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington. Editor: Laurie Asseo, Jim Rubin.
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