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House resolution requires Obama to explain Libya objectives

The House voted Friday to require President Obama to swiftly report to Congress the rationale behind continued U.S. military engagement in Libya, launching a potential showdown over federal funding for the NATO-led operation.

Amid mounting antiwar sentiment in Congress, the House voted 268 to 145 for the resolution, which also said that the administration failed to make its case for military action as required by the authority of the War Powers Act.

By bringing the resolution up for a vote, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) was able to halt momentum for an increasingly popular and liberal-led proposal by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) to immediately withdraw U.S. forces from Libya. Kucinich’s measure was rejected 265 to 148.

The action came amid growing opposition in Congress to overseas military operations — the reflection of an unusual alliance between the antiwar left and newly energized conservatives, a pairing that also has surfaced on other national security issues.

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An annual Defense spending bill is expected to come before the House in a matter of weeks. As deficit-slashing dominates debate in Washington, the administration will probably face new resistance to funding for its military campaigns.

“Today’s debate on Libya is the first step,” Boehner said Friday. “We’ll take further action in the weeks to come.”

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a resolution in that chamber supporting the U.S. military mission in Libya, but it also calls on the president to report to Congress on the policy objectives.

A White House spokesman called the House resolutions “unnecessary and unhelpful.”

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“The administration believes strongly in the concept of consulting with leaders in Congress,” spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Toledo, Ohio, where the president was speaking Friday.

“It is the view of this administration that we’ve acted in accordance with the War Powers Act because of this regular consultation,” Earnest said. “We’ve been engaged in that consultation all along.”

Public opinion is mixed on Obama’s handling of the situation in Libya, but a wider margin of Americans, 54% to 43%, approve of limited U.S. involvement, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll last week.

The antiwar left has led congressional opposition to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kucinich pressed his troop withdrawal resolution as the administration passed the 60-day mark to seek lawmakers’ consent for the Libyan operation under the War Powers Act.

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The Kucinich effort drew interest from Republicans, including veteran conservatives and freshmen aligned with the “tea party,” as an expression of frustration over the administration’s handling of Libya. Some question the scope and cost of the military action, whereas others support the rebels but insist on congressional approval for military engagement.

A similar alliance formed around a proposal last week to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, a measure that was narrowly rejected. And lawmakers from both parties opposed an extension of surveillance provisions in the Patriot Act that nonetheless passed last week.

The Kucinich resolution would have required withdrawal of U.S. forces from Libya within 15 days, a step Republicans and Democrats rejected as draconian. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said it was “dangerous.”

After GOP leaders called their rank and file to a closed-door meeting this week, Boehner emerged with the alternative proposal.

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The resolution passed by the House asks the administration to report within two weeks on the military and political objectives in Libya. It also reaffirms congressional opposition to dispatching ground troops to support the rebels in the North African country.

Rep. Howard L. Berman of Valley Village, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the GOP resolution took “potshots at the president.”

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com


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