WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republican leaders crafted legislation on Thursday allowing the U.S. military to continue participating in the NATO-led operation against Libya as the Pentagon warned that any statement of congressional opposition would send "an unhelpful message of disunity and uncertainty" to U.S. troops, allies and Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
Facing a balance-of-power showdown and frustration among rank-and-file lawmakers, the GOP leadership pursued an alternative to anti-war Rep. Dennis Kucinich's proposal to end U.S. involvement in the conflict, according to Republican lawmakers. A vote on the issue was postponed on Wednesday, and officials in both parties said it was because the legislation from Kucinich, D-Ohio, was gaining ground.
The alternative seeks more information from the Obama administration in 14 days and explicitly opposes U.S. ground forces in Libya, said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Rules Committee.
Asked what type of information, Dreier said, "We want more than just briefings."
The leadership discussed the alternative with rank-and-file Republicans at an hour-long, closed-door meeting. Votes on the measure were slated for Friday.
In a sharp response to Congress, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Thursday 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."
Weighing in while traveling with Gates in Asia, Morrell said: "Once military forces are committed, such actions by the Congress can have significant consequences. It sends an unhelpful message of disunity and uncertainty to our troops, our allies and, most importantly, the Gadhafi regime." He pointed out that NATO has sought U.S. help as the United States has asked for NATO assistance in Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama ordered air strikes in March to back Libyan rebels battling Gadhafi's regime after limited consultation with Congress. More recently, the United States has operated in a support role as the standoff continues between Gadhafi's forces and the rebels.
The 1973 War Powers Resolution requires the president to obtain congressional authorization 60 days after the start of military operations, a deadline that passed last month. Previous presidents, Republicans and Democrats, have largely ignored the law.
Discontent among congressional Republicans and Democrats was palpable.
"With all due respect to the secretary, we have a law," said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., who had introduced a resolution stating that Obama is in violation of the law and requiring the withdrawal of U.S. forces by June 19. "We cannot 'not' act."
Rooney added, "We're trying to say we're relevant here."
Among the measures Republicans planned to discuss was a resolution by Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio., calling on Congress to disapprove of U.S. military involvement. Turner had the backing of more than 60 House Republicans and Kucinich.
"Since the president engaged the United States in military action in Libya, he has not explained to Congress what the U.S.' role is, nor has he clearly outlined how that role will be carried out," Turner said in a statement.
"In the over 60 days since U.S. involvement began, we have watched our mission evolve considerably," he said. "Recently, U.S. Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of the Allied Joint Force Command in Naples overseeing the operation, even suggested that this effort will likely require soldiers on the ground to ensure stability in the region once Gadhafi is removed."
In an interview, Turner said Congress has "no information on post-Gadhafi planning" from the administration.
In a letter to his colleagues, Kucinich seized on Locklear's comments and railed against "an open-ended war" and "an open-ended checkbook" and accused Obama of bypassing Congress and the Constitution.
Obama has said that he would not send ground troops to Libya.
NATO and its partners said Wednesday they have decided to extend for another 90 days their military campaign to protect Libyan civilians.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Thursday that there are signs that Gadhafi is "becoming more and more isolated," but he would not predict how long the military intervention there will last. He pointed out that some military and government leaders have abandoned Gadhafi and there is an increasing amount of pressure on the Libyan leader.
Mullen said that despite speculation that the allies would be "out of ammo" by June, he saw no problems with the international commitment to the operation at least until September.
The White House continued to defend the U.S. action in Libya and its consultation with Congress.
"From our vantage point, there is pretty unified support in Congress for a policy that calls for the Gadhafi regime to remove itself from power and we have seen in the actions this administration has taken enormous amount of progress toward that end ... to tighten the noose around Gadhafi, make it clear his days are numbered, he will no longer rule Libya," Obama spokesman Jay Carney said.
Obama backs a Senate resolution written by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and John McCain, R-Ariz., supporting the U.S. military role in the NATO-led operation. The Senate could vote on that resolution next week.
Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Robert Burns, Erica Werner, David Espo and Sagar Meghani contributed to this report.
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