House Republicans charged forward Wednesday with a plan to try to scale back U.S. military engagement in Libya, a move intended as a rebuke of President Obama’s handling of the mission.
GOP members agreed in a private meeting to hold a vote on a bill that would cut off funding for “hostilities” in Libya, while continuing to support noncombat activities by the NATO-led operation, including intelligence-gathering and support.
The measure, which is not expected to pass the Senate, could come up for a House vote as early as Friday.
The focus on hostilities is a pointed rebuff of Obama, who has chosen not to seek congressional authorization for the mission under the War Powers Act. The White House has argued that the U.S. involvement does not meet the legal definition of hostilities, as described in the act.
Both Democrats and Republicans have expressed frustration with the president’s decision, saying it sets a dangerous precedent for expanding executive power and undermining Congress. That frustration is most concentrated, however, in the Republican-led House, where skepticism of the president is intense and concern over the financial effects of international interventions is a hot topic.
House Republicans were quick to voice frustration Wednesday. Some complained that the U.S. had no clear mission or endgame in the conflict, and worried that it could escalate quickly. Others cited monetary concerns: More than $700 million has been spent so far to support the mission.
But the unifying complaint was about the White House’s decision not to seek authorization or consult more closely with Congress.
“I think it was politically a mistake on his part. I think if he would have come and made the case, there’s probably a lot of us that would have gone along with it,” said Rep. Tom Rooney, a Florida Republican who serves on the House Armed Services Committee.
Now, the House will use the moment to “send the message to future presidents that you’re not just going to have carte blanche ability to pick fights all over the world without the Congress weighing in on it,” Rooney said.
While eager to express displeasure with the White House, some lawmakers are hesitant to appear to be advocating that the U.S. abandon or anger its NATO allies.
An initial proposal by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) would have called for an end to U.S. involvement in hostilities, but did not specifically urge a cutoff of financial support. The focus on the financial support, however, was crucial to many of the deficit hawks in the rank and file.
The debate has also put the spotlight on foreign policy divisions within the Republican Party. Sen. John McCain and others have lashed out at critics of the Libya mission, calling them advocates for a dangerous isolationism.
McCain and Sen. John F. Kerry have proposed a resolution authorizing the U.S. force in Libya for the next year. The House was expected to take up a version of that resolution -- although it is not expected to pass.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the minority leader, acknowledged that the intra-party divisions were long-standing, but driven to the surface by partisanship.
“There’s more of a tendency to pull together when the guy in the White House is on your side,” McConnell said at a morning interview sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “I think some of these views were probably held by some of my members even in the previous administration. Party loyalty tended to kind of mute them.”