The House on Friday delivered its strongest rebuke yet to President Obama over his handling of the U.S. military intervention in Libya, refusing to endorse the U.S. operation three months after it began. But the House stopped short of stripping funding for the mission.
In the last of two votes Friday afternoon, the House rejected a Republican-authored bill to strike funding for the Libya operation. The House voted 238-180 against it, with 89 Republicans opposing.
The vote ensured that, at least for the moment, the Obama administration has the money to sustain its involvement in the NATO-led campaign -- though the funding bill was unlikely to pass in the Senate anyway. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said afterward that the funding vote sends an important message about the need to continue the mission.
However, the vote came after the House, in a 295-123 decision, rejected a resolution to "authorize" the mission in Libya -- even a limited operation with no ground troops. One-hundred-and-fifteen Democrats and only eight Republicans voted for the proposal; in a blow to Obama, 70 Democrats voted against it. Though that resolution is non-binding, it represents the most definitive statement the chamber has made about the conflict.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the administration was "disappointed" by that vote. "We think now is not the time to send the kind of mixed message that it sends," he said.
Taken together with proposals in the Senate, the House measures represent an accelerating move in Congress toward formally weighing in on Libya after months on the relative sidelines.
Ahead of the votes, lawmakers delivered impassioned arguments on the House floor, with Democrats and Republicans joining together on both sides of the debate.
"We have no business in Libya," declared Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, reprising an anti-war argument heard often during the height of the Iraq war. "We're there because we don't like Muammar Qaddafi. Well, there are a lot of bad guys in the world, and if we start picking them off one at a time, we will be at war with most of the world."
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., urged his colleagues not to "pull the rug" out from under NATO over a dispute between branches in Washington.
"A slaughter almost occurred and we were able to stop it by our presence there," he said.
Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., had offered the funding bill, which would restrict funds for Libya save for search and rescue, intelligence, surveillance and a few other contingencies.
"The president has ignored the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution, but he cannot ignore a lack of funding," Rooney said in a statement.
Under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, the president was seemingly required to seek congressional authorization within two months or withdraw troops within three months. That deadline passed, but the Obama administration argued that it never needed authorization because the NATO-led mission in Libya did not constitute hostilities.
That argument angered many lawmakers. A New York Times report that said Obama overruled some of his legal advisers further incensed members of Congress.
"The war in Libya is illegal, unconstitutional and unwarranted. It must end," Ohio Democrat Rep. Dennis Kucinich, said.
In a last-ditch effort Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with rank-and-file Democrats to explain the mission and discuss the implications if the House votes to cut off funds.
The administration requested the closed-door meeting.
Minnesota Democrat Rep. Tim Walz said Clinton apologized for not coming to Congress earlier.
But he said she warned about the implications of a House vote to cut off money.
"The secretary expressed her deep concern that you're probably not on the right track when Qaddafi supports your efforts," Walz said.
Rep. Howard Berman of California, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said such a vote "ensures the failure of the whole mission."
Earlier this week Clinton said lawmakers were free to raise questions, but she asked, "Are you on Qaddafi's side, or are you on the side on the aspirations of the Libyan people and the international coalition that has been bringing them support?"
In the Senate, backers of a resolution to authorize the operation wondered whether the administration had waited too long to address the concerns of House members.
"It's way late," said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee. "This is one of the reasons why they're having this veritable uprising in the House, because of a lack of communication. And then the icing on the cake was probably for them when he (Obama) said that we're not engaged in hostilities. That obviously is foolishness."
He added, however, "That is not a reason to pass a resolution that would encourage Muammar al-Qaddafi to stay in power."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.