WASHINGTON -- The House rebuked President Obama's decision to intervene in Libya in March without consent from Congress, voting on Friday to demand the White House provide a specific justification of the national security importance of military action in Libya.
The U.S. entered Libya in mid-March and is now engaged in a NATO mission to oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Just after approving a resolution drafted by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in a 268-145 vote, the House voted down a more drastic resolution that would have demanded a withdrawal from Libya within 15 days. That bill, written by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), failed in a 148 to 265 vote, garnering 87 votes from Republicans and 61 from Democrats -- a surprising tally for a measure from one of the most liberal Democrats in Congress.
As the House of Representatives debated the two resolutions, each party splintered over support for its leadership. Democrats divided into Kucinich supporters and defenders of Obama, who said the administration was right to intervene in Libya.
While 223 Republicans voted in support of Boehner's resolution, others said the bill was too weak and did not offer a sufficiently strong condemnation of Obama's actions.
The Boehner resolution, unlike Kucinich's, includes no specific demands for the administration's military decisions, instead focusing on admonishing the president for failing to ask Congress before intervening in a foreign country. But the measure does not say that Obama's actions were in violation of the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which states that Congress must authorize the use of force, as Kucinich's does.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called Boehner's bill a "puzzling, confusing, mystifying signal" for failing to clearly demand that the president follow the War Powers Resolution.
"The greater threat today, in my view, is the perpetual acquiescence of this body in situations such as we face today in Libya, where we tolerate the use of force when the threat to our national security is less obvious," he said on the House floor.
Flake, along with 86 other Republicans, voted in favor of the Kucinich resolution.
"Since we went in abruptly and illegally, we need to abruptly leave," said Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who also supported the Kucinich measure.
Democrats accused Boehner of attempting to play to both sides with his resolution, by allowing his members to vote against the president without actually demanding changes to U.S. policy in Libya.
"Either we should authorize this involvement or terminate it," Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) said on the floor. "The majority seems to be raising a fuss while winking at the White House."
It would be better, some Democrats said, to approve the Kucinich resolution, because such a move would re-assert that it is Congress that possesses the power to authorize the nation to go to war. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said he would have voted against intervening in Libya had the president come to Congress for approval.
"Yes, [Gaddafi] is a thug that ought to be removed," he said on the floor. "But it cannot be that America is the 911 call for the world and we are the ones who have to respond everywhere, every time."
Boehner, meanwhile, defended his decision to push for a weaker resolution on Libya, arguing that the Kucinich resolution would force a too-swift withdrawal that could harm American interests.
"It mandates a precipitous withdrawal from our role," he said on the floor. "In my opinion, that would undermine our troops and our allies."