House Republicans leaders have decided to shift gears and hold a vote as early as Friday on a bill to defund U.S. military action in Libya, GOP sources said.
Earlier this week, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) had planned a two-pronged approach, addressing the deep divisions in his party on the Libya issue. One bill, which mirrored a measure Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) offered in the Senate, would authorize the limited use of force in Libya, while another would prevent any more U.S. action in the North African country.
Boehner changed course after a closed-door meeting with his conference on the issue Wednesday afternoon in which members called for a stronger rebuke of the President’s decision to intervene in Libya without Congressional approval, rebuffing calls from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and others not to abandon Libyan opposition rebels in their quest to oust strongman Muammar Qaddafi from power.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) earlier Wednesday openly accused some Republicans of attacking the action in Libya because there’s a Democrat in the White House.
But GOP critics of the President’s Libya action rejected those claims. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) told TPM he believed a Republican president would have sought Congressional approval for U.S. military strikes in Libya and probably would have received it despite some dissent.
“I think a Republican in the White House would have come to Congress and asked for the authority like Bush did with both Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said, adding that he’s “mystified” by Obama’s “mishandling” of the Libyan conflict.
“The reason [Obama] has not garnered support from Congress or the American people is because this has been so badly handled politically,” Cole continued.
Congress is deeply divided over whether the War Powers Act requires Obama to seek Congressional approval for continued military action in Libya.
The law requires Congressional approval when the U.S. military is engaged in “hostilities” for more than 60 days, with a 30-day extension. The U.S. action in Libya has exceeded the three-month time frame, but the Obama administration has said it doesn’t believe the airstrikes in Libya amount to hostilities because it does not involve U.S. ground troops and no U.S. servicemen have been killed in the fighting.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) took exception to the isolationist label, saying a lot of members trying to put that term on all GOP critics of continuing military action in Libya and Afghanistan promote other policies he considers isolationist like banning Americans from traveling to Cuba.
“You cannot only define isolationism in the context of a willingness to use military force,” he said.
Senior Democrats who want out of Libya joined the chorus of Congressional critics taking issue with being called isolationist because they are critical of the President’s execution of the U.S. and NATO-led airstrikes in Libya or are advocating for a rapid drawdown of troops in Afghanistan.
“I don’t think it’s about isolationism,” said Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), the ranking member of the defense appropriations subcommittee. “I think people, because of the weak economy and budget cuts, don’t think [these military actions] can be sustained.”
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), one of the most vocal opponents to the wars in Afghanistan and Libya, told reporters Wednesday that there’s a growing realization in Congress “we’re in a dangerous situation in our country if we keep coming up with military solutions to problems” and “we’re not paying attention to what’s happening at home with the domestic economy.”
But other senior Democrats expressed deep concerns about the attempts on both sides of the aisle to extract the U.S. military from Libya.
“I’m concerned about the isolationist streak we’re seeing,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. “We need to make sure that we don’t retreat in Libya when we’re in a position to [topple] Qaddafi and establish a truly representative government in the Middle East.”