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Senate Sets Own Course on Libya

The Senate appears unmoved by last week’s House action on Libya, content to bring up a bipartisan resolution that would give the chamber’s approval for U.S. operations in Libya.

Speaker John Boehner’s resolution rebuked President Barack Obama for failing to receive Congressional approval for the NATO-led military action and demanded that the White House submit a justification for U.S. involvement within two weeks’ time. But the Ohio Republican’s resolution was not sent to the Senate, where leaders of both parties have chosen to defer to Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.).

McCain said he spoke with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday and that he expects his bill to come up for debate either this week or next. He said he believes the Senate resolution will pass easily and says it should satisfy Members concerned that Obama hasn’t complied with the War Powers Act, adding that it would be up to Reid and Kerry to determine how and when it hits the floor.

“I don’t think the House activity is going to change anything that I know of,” McCain said.

McCain’s resolution, expressing support for Obama’s Libya policy, is expected to receive a markup in the Foreign Relations Committee possibly as early as this week. It remains unclear if the handful of opponents to U.S. military involvement will grow to resemble the opposition in the House, where more than one-third of Republicans supported a resolution sponsored by anti-war liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) calling for the U.S. to withdraw from Libya in 15 days.

Joining Kerry and McCain as sponsors of the supportive Libya resolution are Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Intelligence ranking member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). The bill endorses a limited role for the U.S. military in Libya, where protesters-turned-rebels have been battling forces loyal to dictator Moammar Gadhafi since February. It largely echoes Obama’s current policy, given the United States has only committed to airstrikes that are intended to enforce a no-fly zone and an arms embargo.

The NATO-led action commenced to protect Libyan civilians targeted by Gadhafi because they supported his ouster. Obama has called for the strongman to relinquish power but has said regime change is not included in the U.S. mission. There appears to be sufficient support in the Senate at this point for the Kerry-McCain resolution to pass. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said he still needs to review the language but expects to be able to vote in favor.

Compared with the House, opposition to the president in the Senate has been rather muted. Foreign Relations ranking member Dick Lugar has been among the loudest voices. The Indiana Republican, who is typically aligned with Kerry on major foreign policy matters and was among Obama’s staunchest allies last year on a major nuclear weapons pact with Russia, has questioned the U.S. mission in Libya and argued that the Kerry-McCain resolution would not satisfy the War Powers Act.

“Views are all over the lot, in both parties,” Kyl said Monday. “I don’t know what our action is going to be in response to the House.”

The War Powers Act requires that the president seek and obtain approval for military action from Congress within 60 days. That deadline has passed, although at least some Senators supportive of U.S. involvement in Libya, including Kerry, have said formal Congressional approval is not required in this case. The president did send a letter on the 60th day of the Libya campaign expressing support for the Kerry-McCain resolution, which is nonbinding. Lugar, who could pursue legislative action in support of his position, laid out his position again Monday in an opinion piece published in the Washington Post. Lugar is up for re-election in 2012 and is facing a tough primary challenge.

Another Republican opposed to U.S. involvement in Libya, Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), said in a statement Monday that the Senate should follow the House in demanding answers about the mission. On Friday, Boehner’s resolution passed the House on a bipartisan vote of 268-154, including 223 Republicans who voted in favor. Kucinich’s stronger call for withdrawal fell 148-265 but garnered 87 GOP votes in the process.

“As days turn into weeks and months, Americans are left wondering why their president refuses to answer the collective calls concerning the use of U.S. armed forces in Libya,” Paul said. “If the president chooses to ignore his responsibility to the American people, it is our duty to enforce accountability.”

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