A Senate resolution backing limited U.S. involvement in the NATO-led military campaign against Libya was in doubt Tuesday amid uncertainty and divisions among lawmakers over the next step.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee abruptly postponed action on the resolution scheduled for Thursday. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and several other senators had introduced the non-binding measure last month that supports the limited use of military force and concurs with President Barack Obama that the stated goal of U.S. policy "is to achieve the departure from power of Moammar Gadhafi" for the transition to an inclusive government.
The delay came after the House voted on Friday to rebuke Obama for failing to provide a "compelling rationale" for the Libyan mission and demanding a report "describing in detail" the operation's objective, its costs and its impact on the nation's two other wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Forty-five Democrats joined the Republican majority in passing the resolution.
Obama ordered air strikes in March after a U.N. resolution, and consultation with Congress has been limited. The Constitution says Congress has the power to declare war, and the 1973 War Powers Resolution requires the president to obtain congressional authorization within 60 days of the start of military operations, a deadline that passed last month.
Even though Obama never sought congressional approval, the White House says it believes the Libya campaign is still in compliance with the War Powers Resolution.
Not so, argue several lawmakers.
The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, said Obama has not made his case to Congress and therefore, "the American people have no clear understanding of the U.S. interests at stake in Libya, how much this will cost and what other priorities will have to be sacrificed," Lugar wrote in an editorial for Monday's edition of The Washington Post.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said repeated calls to the president to explain his decision not to seek congressional consent have gone unanswered.
"Issuing a strong message to the president underlining his necessity to answer to the legislative branch _ and the nation it represents _ is the least we can do," Paul said in a statement Monday. "If the president chooses to ignore his responsibility to the American people, it is our duty to enforce accountability."
Countering the Kerry-McCain effort, Sens. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., were crafting a tougher resolution on Libya.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., indicated on Tuesday that he might try to bring legislation to the floor without committee action. Reid said he spoke to Kerry and McCain on Monday and "I've told them that I'm going to do my utmost.... to bring something to the floor, so we can have that debate."
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the Democratic leadership was committed to Senate action.
"Even though administrations and congresses always fight over the War Powers Act, I do think that when our troops are in a conflict that there ought to be a congressional resolution of at least support if not authorization," Lieberman said in an interview.