Boehner Wimps Out on Libya

by Ben Johnson

The moment would be surreal were it not so reminiscent: An arrogant Democratic president had committed an impeachable offense, lied to the American people, and dared Congress to do anything about it. Incensed congressmen of both parties asked, negotiated, and threatened until they realized they had no alternative but to take action. Then, the Republican leadership stepped in to save their party’s, and their country’s, worst enemy.

This is not a Clinton-era flashback but a rehearsal of this week’s actions in Congress.

Barack Obama’s indiscretion is more serious than a stained dress and a lie under oath during a civil trial. Obama sent an already overstretched American military to take sides in the Libyan civil war, as part of the NATO operation known as Operation Odyssey Dawn. Now, well over 60 days into the fight, the war proceeds with no sign of Congressional approval and a promise of “no let-up.”

By the most liberal reading of the War Powers Resolution, this is illegal. Yet when Congress decided to act, the Republican leadership came to the rescue.

Boehner Saves Barry’s Bacon

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers opposed the war from the beginning. Congressmen Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul suggested the war called for impeachment. Late last month Kucinich introduced House Concurrent Resolution 51, which would require Obama to remove all U.S. troops from combat in Libya within 15 days of passage.

As its scheduled vote date neared earlier this week. Boehner yanked the bill when he realized it might pass.

Then he set out creating the toothless alternative that cleared the House Friday.

Boehner’s House Resolution 292 simply asks for the president to send Congress “a report describing in detail United States security interests and objectives.” It declares, “Congress has not provided authorization” for Libya and “has the constitutional prerogative to withhold funding.”

And that’s it.

If it is ever produced, the report will create bad PR for Obama and further turn public opinion against the intervention. Cynics will undoubtedly accuse Boehner of playing politics with a war for requiring it.

At the least cynical, his actions could be interpreted as an attempt to build public sentiment for cutting off funds. But if Boehner cannot find the spine to follow the Constitution and the law now, how could he be expected to find it later?

Others would argue Boehner has taken this course of least muscular resistance because he fears one day a Republican president will violate the Constitution and launch a long-running war with zero Congressional approval and little oversight, and the GOP will not want Democrats to take action. (They will anyway.)

The bill lowers the most important decision any president will ever make, the decision to go to war, to the level of raising the debt ceiling, confirming one of Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, or prosecuting the Clinton impeachment – an in-house game of Washington insiders wagging their fingers at each other but offering no real opposition to the liberal agenda. Meanwhile, the president gets to pursue his federal fiat war in an unprecedented violation of Constitutional and legal authority.

As often occurs in politics, strange bedfellows have united for a less craven legislative response. Six Republican senators, including Rand Paul and Jim DeMint, have written a letter to the president about this matter. But the Constitution got a boost from a surprising quarter this week. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, said:

What we’re confronted with today is not primarily a question of foreign policy, or even of war policy. We are presented with a question of constitutional law and of the prerogatives of the United States Congress: Shall the president, like the King of England, be a dictator in foreign policy? Shall the president have the unfettered right to take this country to war without so much as a by-your-leave from Congress, as the King of England could do without authorization from parliament?

This, he rightly concluded, “turns the Constitution, and the intentions of our Framers, and the intentions of our whole constitutional law system on its head.” He urged Congress to vote for both the Boehner and Kucinich resolutions – because it is the only one “does something about it.”

Boehner brought his own bill up for a vote, and it passed 268-145. Only then did he allow a vote on Kucinich’s legislation, which went down to defeat 148-265.

Have Some Guts!

The Speaker told the media his legislation gives Obama “a chance to get this right. If he doesn’t, Congress will exercise its constitutional authority and make it right.”

Obama’s chance to get it right was before he sent troops into the middle of a third Muslim civil war. It is Boehner who has refused to do right and hold the president accountable for this crime. His inaction has tainted all of Congress with the charge that it has failed to exercise its constitutional authority.

Mr. Speaker, take a stand. Get on the record and support or oppose our war in Libya, authorize or end it. The Founders – and a hefty chunk of American voters – demand this of you.

Measuring the Tea Party Rebellion

Friday’s votes gave some idea of the extent of the constitutional-conservative, Tea Party outrage that exists in the House. A total of 87 Republicans voted for the Kucinich bill, while only 61 Democrats did.

Among those who voted yea were such Republican stalwarts as Michele Bachmann, Allen West, Ron Paul, Tom McClintock, Connie Mack, Jason Chaffetz, Justin Amash, Tim Walberg, Jack Kingston, Paul Broun (who had the courage to tweet after the last State of the Union Address, “Mr. President…You believe in socialism”), Dan Benishek, Walter Jones, and Kristi Noem.

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Rep. Justin Amash, R-MI, tells it like it is.

These series of roll calls sent an important message to an anxious grassroots conservative movement. It may have shown us where the GOP’s future leadership is to be found, especially for those tiring of the first three words of this headline.

Rep. Randy Forbes, R-VA, said all the right things about Libya.