Senate panel votes to back US actions in Libya that House rebuked
WASHINGTON — In a victory for President Obama, a Senate panel voted yesterday to approve participation in the military campaign against Libya and Moammar Khadafy’s forces.
The 14-5 vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sharply contrasted with the House’s overwhelming rejection of a similar resolution last week, muddling the message about congressional support for the commander in chief’s actions and the NATO-led operation.
“When Moammar Khadafy is bunkered down in Tripoli, when [Monday] the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him on charges of crimes against humanity, at a moment where our armed forces are supporting a NATO mission aimed at preventing more such atrocities, do we want to stop the operation?’’ the committee’s chairman, Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, asked his colleagues.
The resolution would limit involvement to one year while calling for a ban of American ground forces in Libya except for search and rescue operations or to protect government officials. Obama had indicated he would welcome the bipartisan measure.
The full Senate is expected to consider the resolution the week of July 11.
The committee’s action came after a morning of sometimes testy exchanges between Harold Koh, the State Department’s legal adviser, and panel members over Obama’s decision not to seek congressional authorization for the Libya operation.
Koh said Obama had acted legally because the limited US role is neither a war nor the kind of full-blown hostilities that would trigger an American withdrawal within 60 days, as established in the 1973 War Powers Resolution.
“Our position is carefully limited to the facts of the present operation, supported by history, and respectful of both the letter of the resolution and the spirit of consultation and collaboration that underlies it,’’ said Koh, who acknowledged that the administration could have done a better job in dealing with Congress.
Before backing the resolution, the committee adopted a series of amendments, including one that specified that the operation was “hostilities’’ that fall under the War Powers Resolution and require congressional authorization. The panel rejected, 14-5, another amendment limiting the military role to intelligence sharing, refueling, surveillance, reconnaissance, and operational planning.