Congress Divides on Libya, Moves Toward Key Votes

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The Senate may authorize the war, even as the House turns against it

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Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) are from different political parties, but the former presidential candidates have a lot in common: Both men fought in Vietnam, voted to authorize the Iraq war, and are now pushing their colleagues to support another war of choice. On Tuesday, they introduced legislation permitting "limited use" of U.S. troops for 12 months in Libya. "It is time to authorize the president's use of force, whether he thinks he needs it or not," McCain said.

Being closer to the people, the House is less inclined to defer to President Obama. Its members now confront dueling resolutions. One echoes the Senate bill. The other would "remove U.S. forces from hostilities in Libya under the War Powers Resolution except for forces engaged in non-hostile actions." Of course, Obama pretends he is already meeting that standard. If the new legislation passes, and the president continues to engage in hostile actions while calling them non-hostile, what will the House do, pass another bill insisting on non-hostility? To reassert congressional control over war and peace, an order for total withdrawal is required.

The L.A. Times reports that "House Speaker John Boehner faces the difficult task of balancing growing frustration over the war within his caucus with a less vocal but hawkish flank that does not want to halt funds." This isn't surprising. Some Republicans favored military action before Obama. At least some of the division in Congress, however, is attributable to legislators who would've voted against the mission, but deem it important to remove Muammar Qaddafi now that we've targeted him and killed his son.

Blowback, anyone?

For those House members too, the ideal resolution would be something different than what is actually before them. Here is the missing option: a grant of authority to continue the mission in Libya, accompanied by a formal censure of Obama for waging it illegally. That's the best a pro-war legislator can do.

Image credit: Reuters

Drop-down image credit: Reuters

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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