Obama administration officials are claiming a partial victory today because the House rejected a measure to defund the Libya war, even after rejecting a separate measure that would have authorized the war. But the numbers don't tell the whole story.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to put lipstick on the pig of today's admonishment of the administration by Congress, saying that she was "gratified that the House has decisively rejected efforts to limit funding" for the intervention. She was referring to the House's rejection of a bill put forth by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) that would have shut off the spigot of funds for most, but not all, U.S. military operations in Libya.
The vote failed 180-238 - but, in fact, there were more than enough lawmakers to pass the measure. Of the 149 Democrats who stuck with the president, up to 70 of them are totally opposed to the Libya intervention and want to see it completely defunded as soon as possible. They voted "no" on the Rooney's bill because they thought it was too weak, did not cut off all funds, and implicitly authorized the intervention.
These 70 Democrats make up the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), the largest caucus within the House Democratic Caucus, whose leadership includes Reps. Mike Honda (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ).
"Members of Congress voted no because the bill provided funding and legal authority for everything we're currently doing. It was back door authorization. Members didn't support authorizing what we're doing now in Libya," Michael Shank, Honda's spokesman, told The Cable. "The majority of the CPC voted no on the Rooney vote because of this."
In other words, if the GOP had put forth a stronger anti-Libya resolution, the progressive Democrats would have joined them and it would have passed. Despite what Clinton or other administration officials may say, the bill's failure cannot be seen as an endorsement of the Libya war.
The argument that the Rooney bill indirectly authorized the Libya war was made Friday on the House floor by many, including Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), who said:
"This bill purports to cut off funding for combat in Libya. In doing so it simply forbids what the constitution already forbids, the waging of war without explicit congressional authorization. But then it specifically grants to the president what up until now he has completely lacked: Congressional authority to engage in every conceivable belligerent act short of actually pulling the trigger."
"Refueling bombers on their way to targets, identifying and selecting targets, guiding munitions to their targets, logistical support, operational planning... these are all acts of war in direct support of belligerence at war and this bill authorizes them," he said. "Let's not enter a war through the backdoor when we have already decided not to enter it through the front."
And in case there was any doubt on the CPC's position, their leaders issued the following statement:
The Co-Chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Taskforce call on Congress and the President to immediately end our war in Libya. The US has been engaged in hostilities for over 90 days without congressional approval, which undermines not only the powers of the legislative branch but also the legal checks and balances put in place nearly 40 years ago to avoid abuse by any single branch of government.
We call on our colleagues in Congress to exercise their legitimate authority and oversight and immediately block any funding for this war. Before the Executive branch further weakens the War Powers Resolution, and before we attack another country in the name of our "responsibility to protect," we must recommit ourselves to our Constitutional duty and obligation to hold the purse strings and the right to declare war. For decades, the House recognized the need for appropriate checks and balances before another war was waged. We must do the same. We call on Congress to exhibit similar foresight by promptly ending this war and pledging to uphold the laws that characterize America's commitment to democratic governance.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.