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June 24, 2011

White House Fails to Persuade Democrats on Libya

Posted in: Uncategorized

Democrats heard a pitch from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday on supporting the Libya operation. They were not enthused.

Even the argument that Republicans wouldn’t challenge a president of their own party the same way didn’t carry much sway.

“The president has not developed strong relationships with members of Congress that would allow members to even look at the politics of this,” said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who asked Clinton on Thursday to identify the leaders of the Libyan opposition that the United States and its NATO allies are supporting. “I am opposed to this mission,” she added [...]

How divided are Democrats? At a meeting of the party’s leaders and its top committee members Wednesday, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gave a clear endorsement of Obama. She said she would vote to authorize the Libya mission, which began in March with missile strikes from U.S. ships. But her closest ally in Congress, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), took issue with that position, witnesses said, arguing that the American public won’t put up with continued U.S. military commitment abroad in Afghanistan and Libya. One described Miller as jumping “down her throat,” though other sources contested that depiction and said his discontent was aimed at the White House.

Pelosi and Miller in disagreement? That’s remarkable.

So here’s what’s going to happen. The House is voting today on two measures. One, to authorize the Libya mission for one year while banning ground troops, will fail. The other, to defund the mission (with notable exceptions), is likely to pass. Then the Senate won’t take up the defunding bill, and possibly take up the authorization, which has been pushed by John Kerry and John McCain (the last two losing Presidential candidates, just in case you think some future President will change his or her view on executive authority in war). So neither chamber will pass the same bill, and the Administration will continue to be involved in the Libya mission run by NATO.

What we’re talking about here is embarrassment, and for the White House the avoidance of embarrassment. Of course, the could have avoided this entirely by simply asking for authorization, instead of reducing themselves to this spectacle of claiming that their involvement doesn’t equal hostilities.

But of course, there’s a larger issue here, well-described by Jerry Nadler:

Some Democrats say they’re concerned that if they give Obama carte blanche to execute the mission, a future Republican president would ignore Congress in taking the nation into a more expansive war and cite the mission in Libya as precedent.

“It’s very important that Congress stand up and say that we protect our constitutional prerogative and that we don’t go to war just on the president’s say-so,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.). If the current situation doesn’t require congressional consent under the War Powers Act, Nadler continued, “I can’t imagine any situation where he would need congressional authorization.”

I can’t imagine it either, and that’s why I support this effort, even if it’s destined to fail and even if it’s motivated by partisan pique.

UPDATE: The first votes are coming in. The House rejected the limited authorization of the Libya mission by a count of 295-123. That exceeds a 2/3 vote. The defunding vote should come up shortly.

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