The Senate Foreign Relations Committee endorsed the President's actions in Libya. The panel passed a measure that would authorize the President to conduct "limited" military engagement in Libya. The measure, cosponsored by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ), is similar to the one the House failed to pass last Friday, which was a rebuke to President Obama.
Meant to challenge President Obama's unilateral decision to engage the U.S. military in Libya, members of the committee offered numerous amendments to alter the Kerry-McCain proposal, but the panel failed to pass the most drastic measure that would have restricted the President’s ability to fight the incursion. The amendment would have defunded much of the military actions, but only five members of the 19 members of the committee supported it.
Committee members did support measures attempting to reign in the President's authority. One measure would require the President to report back to Congress updates on the military mission and one that would prohibit the President from engaging U.S. troops on the ground in Libya.
The vote comes after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard from State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh, who defended President Obama’s Libya decision. A staunch critic of President Bush's use of presidential authority to conduct the "War on Terror," Koh said President Obama supports the constitutionality of the War Powers Act, but that the President decided not to seek Congressional approval because of the U.S.'s "limited" role in Libya: limited mission, limited U.S. casualties, limited chance for escalation and limited military engagement.
Members of the panel challenged the President's position. Some lawmakers said the President acted outside his authority outlined in the Constitution and in the War Powers Act of 1973 by failing to seek Congressional authorization for prolonged military engagement.
Ranking Member Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) said the U.S.'s role is "significant" because the U.S. is providing a majority of intelligence and aerial refueling.
Even members of his own party challenged the President's argument that the U.S. is not engaged in "hostilities" in Libya.
Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) called President Obama’s position a “narrow and very contorted definition of legal hostilities. ”
Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) asked Koh if drone attacks, a tool not envisioned in 1973 during passage of the War Powers Act, which result in casualties, constitute hostile engagement.
Koh said the term "hostilities" in the War Powers Resolution "is ambiguous and is defined nowhere in the statute."
Last week, the House of Representatives passed a measure rebuking the President’s actions. They failed to pass a proposal that authorizes the President to fight a “limited” war, which would enable the U.S. to continue assisting NATO with the aerial raids and military mission, but expressly prohibits U.S. troops from touching Libya’s soil.