In an inexplicable loss for House Speaker John Boehner, a substantial portion of his caucus abandoned him on a vote to limit funding for the US involvement in the NATO mission in Libya. The House was expected to pass the funding limitation today, which would have been a rebuke to the President’s warmaking powers. Instead, the measure failed by a count of 180-238, with 89 Republicans rejecting the resolution. This included a strange mix of pro-war conservatives but also anti-war votes like Ron Paul and Walter Jones, who perhaps felt that the exemptions for intelligence and reconnaissance, among other actions, gave up too much to the Administration. Even Tea Party favorites like Tom McClintock and Michele Bachmann voted No.

Democrats did not whip the vote on defunding, but they still voted against it for the most part. 36 Democrats voted to defund.

Earlier in the day, the House also rejected a limited authorization for the mission that would have banned ground troops, by a count of 123-295. 70 Democrats voted against authorization, along with all but 8 Republicans.

I’m at a loss to explain why Boehner would hold this vote if he didn’t have the numbers to carry it. Now Congress looks impotent and useless, and the story becomes about vote-counting instead of war powers. The Senate wasn’t going to pass a defunding bill anyway, but now they really have no pressure to do so. And while Congress struggles to determine its role in Libya, the President will continue to authorize military involvement. More importantly, the doctrine that a President can unilaterally authorize war and go around Congress through claims that engagement that puts no American lives at risk does not constitute “hostilities” goes unchecked. This sets a dangerous precedent for the future, especially given the trajectory of reliance on drones and other robots and shadow wars.

I will entertain the notion that the House Speaker is fine with all that, and put up a vote on defunding that he knew would fail, to remove consequences from the executive in the future. It’s certainly a possibility.

Meanwhile, just as these votes ended, Foreign Policy magazine catches a US Admiral admitting that NATO is trying to kill Gadhafi. Might have been good information before the vote.

…more on the debate before the vote from David Farenthold.