The House of Representatives refused to authorize U.S. involvement in the NATO mission in Libya on Friday but also rejected an effort to cut off partial support for the mission, sending contradictory messages in a pair of votes that demonstrated the deep divisions in both parties over the use of American forces in the conflict.
Despite growing frustration in Congress over the White House’s handling of the Libya mission, the failure of the back-to-back votes in the House will preserve the status quo for now, allowing the U.S. military to continue operations in Libya.
The attempt to strip funding was in large part an attempt to give voice to that frustration. Republicans blasted the president as conducting an unconstitutional military mission, while setting a dangerous precedent that would give the executive branch nearly unchecked power to wage war.
“If the president believes that missile strikes and drone operations taking place in Libya are critical, it is his responsibility to explain [that] to the American people and to seek authorization from this Congress. Because the president has failed to do that ... we are here today,” House Speaker John Boehner said from the floor before the vote.
The White House argues that because the United States is acting as a part of NATO, its engagement does not meet the definition of “hostilities” that requires congressional authorization under the War Powers Act.
The argument has won over few in Congress, even Democratic allies. But opponents of the House bill argued that the solution was to authorize the Libya mission. Cutting off the funding was merely an attempt to score political points while risking damage to the U.S.’ relationship with allies, they argued.
“If we want our allies to stand by us in our time of need in Afghanistan we have to stand by them in places like Libya,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “We’re either in an alliance or we’re not.”
Earlier, an attempt to authorize the current level of military force in Libya for one year failed. That measure, identical to one with bipartisan support in the Senate, was overwhelmingly rejected by a vote of 123-295. Seventy Democrats joined with Republicans to reject the measure, and eight Republicans voted for the measure.
The funding bill failed 180-238. It would have cut all U.S. financial backing for the mission until authorized by Congress. It makes an exception for a short list of specific activities not directly related to a typical definition of “hostilities,” including intelligence gathering, search and rescue, aerial refueling and planning.
Opponents argued that the bill would essentially end U.S. involvement in the mission.
Even if it passed, the bill would have had virtually no chance of becoming law. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has expressed support for the mission in Libya and was not expected to bring it up for a vote.
Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.