Two top senators on Tuesday unveiled a resolution giving President Barack Obama limited authority in the 3-month-old war against Libya, warning that the drastic step of cutting off funds for the military operation would be a lifeline to a weakened Moammar Gadhafi.
Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and John McCain of Arizona, the leading Republican on the Armed Services Committee, introduced the bipartisan resolution that would allow the mission to continue but would impose a one-year limit on the NATO-led operation, a period McCain said is "more than enough time to finish the job." It also would prohibit American ground forces in Libya.
The measure is a clear counter to efforts in the House to prohibit spending and effectively end the operation, a reflection of the growing Republican and Democratic anger toward Obama and his treatment of Congress.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said late Tuesday that the Republican rank and file would consider two possible resolutions _ one mirroring the Senate measure by Kerry and McCain and another to remove U.S. forces from Libya except those involved in search and rescue, aerial refueling, intelligence and surveillance and noncombat missions. The Republicans would weigh the two at a meeting Wednesday.
"We have no desire to damage the NATO alliance, which has been a strong force for peace and stability in Europe and around the world," Boehner said in a statement. "We know that soldiers, sailors and airmen from our allies have fought by our side for decades, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we honor their service. Still, the White House must not ignore its obligations to the American people and the laws of this country."
The commander in chief did not seek congressional consent when he launched air strikes against Gadhafi's forces on March 19. Lawmakers argue that Obama is in violation of the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which requires approval of the legislative branch within 60 days, with a 30-day extension. That deadline has passed.
The White House, in a report to Congress last week, said the limited U.S. role in the operation did not amount to hostilities and did not require congressional authorization, an argument that further inflamed lawmakers.
"It is clear that the Obama administration's claim that targeted bombings, missile strikes and other military actions in Libya do not constitute `hostilities' under the War Powers Resolution is not credible," Boehner said.
Seeking to quell the outrage and send a strong signal of support, Kerry and McCain proposed their measure and urged lawmakers to consider the implications of abandoning the mission.
"Gadhafi is going to fall. It is just a matter of time," McCain said in a speech on the Senate floor. "Is this the time for Congress to turn against this policy? Is this the time to ride to the rescue of a failing tyrant when the writing is on the wall that he will collapse?"
Said Kerry: "The last message any United States senator wants to send is that this madman need only wait us out because we are divided at home."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he had the votes to pass the resolution and he would push for its passage. The Senate was likely to debate and vote on the measure next week.
Even Senate Republicans frustrated with the president signaled their support.
"While I disagree with President Obama's disregard for congressional authorization, we must ensure our military has the ability to succeed in Libya," said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Kerry and McCain, their parties' presidential nominees in 2004 and 2008, cautioned against allowing politics to dictate policy.
McCain said Republicans should think long and hard about challenging a Democratic president's authority, saying it could haunt a future president who might be a Republican.
Kerry said a House vote to defund the mission would be "a moment of infamy because it would reinforce the all-too-common misperception on the Arab street that America says one thing and does another."
On a separate track in the House, several lawmakers, including Reps. Joe Heck, R-Nev., Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Justin Amash, R-Mich., are pushing measures to cut off funds for Libya. That legislation could be part of the defense spending bill that the House is slated to consider later this week.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said cutting off funds "would undermine the confidence of NATO in the ability of the president of the United States to participate in support of an effort that NATO had agreed to, the United Nations had agreed to and the Arab League had agreed to."
In a letter to House members, leading conservatives warned against efforts to stop the mission, arguing against the United States becoming "one of those irresolute allies."
"The United States must see this effort in Libya through to its conclusion," the letter stated. Among those signing the letter were Karl Rove, former adviser to President George W. Bush, and Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Republicans "are very frustrated over the president's actions, his lack of positing a clear mission and vision for our involvement in Libya. Members have not seen the reasons why or why not the president thinks we're involved in hostilities."
Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.