The Senate voted late Tuesday afternoon to delay any debate on the Libya war until after the ongoing budget debate. And if the government shuts down on Friday, that debate could be delayed much longer.
Freshman Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) forced the Senate to take a vote on his non-binding amendment expressing the Senate's opposition to the Obama administration's decision to go to war in Libya. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) didn't want a Libya debate to halt progress on the small business bill that was on the floor, so he convened a vote to table the Ryan amendment. Reid's vote to table the amendment passed overwhelmingly, 90-10. Ten GOP senators actually voted against delaying a vote on Paul amendment, signaling that they are firmly opposed to the president's Libya policy or at least want the debate to happen now.
In an exclusive interview with The Cable, Paul said that he considered the vote to table his amendment as tantamount to a vote on the war itself.
"It's exactly the same thing," said Paul. "It's either you want to consider it or you don't want to consider it. Obviously if you vote to table it you disagree with the resolution. The implication isn't very subtle. We won't get a direct vote because [the Senate leaders] don't want to take the vote, so you get an indirect vote."
Paul's amendment essentially calls on senators to approve or disapprove then-candidate Obama's 2007 statement to the Boston Globe, in which he asserted, "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."
"It embarrasses [Senate leaders] because it uses the president's exact language," Paul said. "But it divides our caucus too. Half of our caucus believes in no limitation on war-making...and I strongly disagree with that. Either you believe there needs to be Congressional authority for war or you don't."
The ten GOP senators who voted against tabling the Paul amendment were Susan Collins (R-ME), Jim DeMint (R-SC), John Ensign (R-NV), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Paul himself.
One senior Republican who is adamantly opposed to the Libya war but did not vote for the Paul amendment was Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN). In an interview with The Cable, Lugar said that the budget debate was preventing the Senate from taking up the Libya debate.
"We're so consumed with the budget debate, whether the government is going to close down, there's almost no audience in the caucus for the time being," he said. "In terms of an effective parliamentary gesture, this is preempted for the foreseeable future."
Lugar said Paul has a good point about congressional authorization but noted that several senators, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), John Kerry (D-MA), and John Cornyn (R-TX), are working on ideas on how to express Congress' view on the Libya war.
Lugar said Congressional confusion about its right to authorize the war is a separate issue from lawmakers' demands that the administration present clear objectives for the Libya intervention and detail a plan for the mission going forward.
"This has been going on for weeks. We are moving along day after day spending money... everyone assumes that we know in the back of our minds that Qaddafi must go but that is not the stated objective, nor is there really any plan whatsoever as to what will be done in the aftermath," Lugar said. "Literally, the drift continues."
In an interview with The Cable, Cornyn said he agreed with the plan to delay the Senate Libya debate for now because the Senate needed to move on more pressing business.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Cable in an interview that the Libya resolution was discussed at the GOP caucus lunch meeting on Tuesday, but there were still several ideas being tossed around.
"The worst thing would be if we take up a resolution and it fails," Graham said, adding that he wants the final language to explicitly call for regime change in Libya. "We're going to have to sit down and see where our Democratic colleagues are at."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.