Congress takes up Libyan intervention
This week, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on a resolution that would authorize President Obama, under the War Powers Act, to remove U.S. armed forces from Libya. The resolution’s unsurprising sponsor, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, has previously used the legislative maneuver to force votes on withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. Several important questions loom ahead of the vote: first and foremost, does it actually have a chance of passing?
If Congress’s unanimous support for an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act declaring that “nothing in this Act or any amendment made by this Act shall be construed to authorize military operations in Libya” is any kind of indication, then one should expect so. For Democrats and Republicans alike, the Libyan intervention is a difficult one to sell to constituents back home, and a nay vote on the proposed resolution could give some ammo to prospective congressional challengers in 2012.
When ABC’s Jake Tapper asked a House Republican leadership aide about whether Kucinich’s resolution could pass, the aide responded, “Honestly we don’t know.” Coming from a Congress that just voted 322-96 in favor of $690 billion in defense spending and language that lays the foundation for permanent war, this response can only be taken as an encouraging sign.
But more importantly—and this is the disturbing part—will it make a difference even if the bill does pass? If the Libyan intervention no longer even comes close to respecting the War Powers Act, which forbids armed forces from remaining in conflict without congressional approval for more than 60 days, then why would President Obama suddenly start abiding by it? If President Obama plainly ignored the will of Congress when he decided to commit the U.S. to the intervention, then what makes anyone think he would start start holding himself to it now?
Either way, the ramifications of a yes vote would be enormous: if the Senate followed suit by supporting the measure, a massive showdown between Congress and the President would likely ensue. Notwithstanding the embarrassment it would inflict on the Obama administration, such a concrete and visible rejection of the intervention would force a long-needed debate on executive power. It might also, just maybe, start up a meaningful debate over American militarism.
The Congress has an immensely important vote ahead of itself. Assuming it remains opposed to the Libyan intervention—and its votes last week suggest it does—will it assert the power provided to it by the constitution and bring an end to U.S. involvement, or will it bow down once more to the President?