updated 6/22/2011 12:35:35 PM ET 2011-06-22T16:35:35

President Barack Obama lacks the support of the House for authorizing the U.S. military operation in Libya, Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday, as Congress sent conflicting messages about America's role in the NATO-led mission against Moammar Gadhafi.

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Leading Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are pushing a resolution to give Obama limited authority in the 3-month-old war, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., calling it a "clear statement to our allies, to the world, to the Libyan people and to Gadhafi that we support the administration's actions on Libya."

The measure puts senators at odds with members of the House, including anti-war Democrats and tea party-backed Republicans, who question the legitimacy of the operation since Obama never sought congressional consent under the law.

Boehner, speaking to reporters, was asked about the Senate effort led by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

Video: Robinson: Ridiculous to say Libya not 'acts of war' (on this page)

"They're pushing for an authorization in Libya and I don't think that is where the House is," Boehner said. "The fact is the president has not made his case to the members of Congress. He's not made his case to the American people. We've been in this conflict for 90 days and the president hasn't talked to the American people for four or five weeks about why we're there, what our national interest is and why we should continue."

Rank-and-file House Republicans planned to meet Wednesday afternoon to weigh two resolutions — one similar to the Senate measure that would allow the mission to continue and another to end the operation. A vote in the House is likely on Thursday.

One measure would authorize the operation for one year, bar U.S. ground forces and require Obama to report to Congress on the mission. The other would remove U.S. forces from Libya except those involved in search and rescue, aerial refueling, intelligence and surveillance and noncombat missions.

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Obama did not seek congressional consent when he launched air strikes against Gadhafi's forces on March 19. Lawmakers argue that Obama is in violation of the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which requires approval of the legislative branch within 60 days, with a 30-day extension. That deadline has passed.

The White House, in a report to Congress last week, said the limited U.S. role in the operation did not amount to hostilities and did not require congressional authorization, an argument that further upset lawmakers.

In a Senate speech, Reid argued that the challenge to Obama was politically driven.

"Some Republicans in the House of Representatives and on the campaign trail have expressed concern over our involvement in this conflict," Reid said. "They have clearly decided to use the War Powers Resolution as a political bludgeon to pursue a partisan agenda."

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The Democratic leader said the question for lawmakers was whether U.S. involvement in a mission "to stop mass murder and chaos" in Libya was the right decision.

"I'm confident it was," Reid said. "Moammar Gadhafi's repressive dictatorship is a threat to the region and to the United States national security."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Robinson: Ridiculous to say Libya not 'acts of war'

  1. Closed captioning of: Robinson: Ridiculous to say Libya not 'acts of war'

    >>> -- is not met, that threshold is not met by the activities we are engaged in.

    >> 20 past the hour. live look at the white house . welcome back. joining us from washington, columnist and associate editor of post and political analyst eugene robinson . the column today is on obama 's novel definition of hostilities and he writes in part this. obama , with uncommon dishd for both language and logic, takes the position that what we are doing in libya does not reach the hostilities threshold for triggering the war powers act under which presidents must seek congressional approval for any military campaign lasting more than 90 days . an intellectual president such as obama should be able to lead a search for answers to these tough questions. as soon as he gets a better grasp on the definition of hostilities. okay.

    >> gene, you know, it's one thing -- i've been surprised by this. it is one thing if you're george w. bush and you ask your lawyers what they think and they come back with a novel definition of something that doesn't pass the straight face test but if you are a constitutional law professor yourself --

    >> yeah.

    >> -- it makes this conclusion at least to some of us even more troubling.

    >> yeah. it's actually ridiculous. i mean, this is an administration that's usually kind of earnest and they try to, you know, do the right thing or at least recognize reality. but here, you know, they're not hostilities in libya ? blasting targets with drone aircraft, that's hostile. providing support so that allied bombers try to take out gadhafi, that's hostile. these are acts of war and just kind of ridiculous to say that they aren't and that, you know, troubling but also just weird for this president.

    >> well, it's strange, also, obviously, this president not talking to the pentagon because "the washington post " is reporting today that soldiers and airmen involved in this conflict are receiving imminent danger pay. and "the post" reporting they're getting an extra $225 a month for troops who fly planes over libya or serve on ships within 110 nautical miles of libya 's shores. this is obviously a war. it is obviously hostilities and it is obvious that this president is following the tradition sadly of republican and democratic presidents alike trying to skirt the constitution on basic war powers .

    >> yeah. the constitution says congress is the branch of government that can declare war and so presidents have long ignored that. that's why the war powers act was passed to put in kind of a fail safe. the more than 90 days you got to ask congress for something and, you know, frankly, most presidents come up with a better excuse than this one. and they -- they come and ask for some sort of authorization or a resolution or some something. but for some reason the president doesn't want to go to congress and ask a discussion that i think we ought to have. i mean, this is -- we're in libya to protect civilians. we are not in syria . we are not in yemen except we kind of are. we need to talk about this stuff and figure out what is our theory for the military involvement in these sorts of situations?

    >> no doubt.

    >> and we are not having that discussion.

    >> and gene, it seems to me that a question we asked on the very first day of this war remains unanswered which is what is the precedent set here? we go in to libya to protect people, senator john mccain said gadhafi was at the gates benghazi. what if they were slaughtered? you can say the same about people being shot in the streets of syria , for example. so this feels like a conversation we had a couple of months ago and completely unresolved.

    >> you know, we did have the same conversation, willie, a couple of months ago. it is still unresolved. you know, why are we in libya and not in syria ? here's another question. we kept benghazi from being wiped out but it's now a long, dragged out protracted civil war and people are being killed every day. at what point do those things balance out and cross a line saying, gee, we have had more civilian casualties over time than perhaps it would have been in that initial awful massacre? you can't weigh them as exact equivalents but it's something to think about as we decide whether to commit our blood and treasure to a foreign involvement.

    >> just -- i guess in an attempt to be transparent here and wondering, jonathan, joe, eugene, would this conversation have a different tone if the president was a republican?

    >> oh, good lord. george w. bush ?

    >> i'm just wondering.

    >> they're tearing up the constitution, dick cheney is putting it through a paper shredder and they're setting little kids on fire . of course it would. that's a great question. seems awfully docile.

    >> when george w. bush did such things and had tenuous constitutional theories --

    >> right.

    >> propagated.

    >> tenuous evidence.

    >> it was the -- it was the end of the republic as we know it.

    >> there was a -- there was a cumulative impact under bush.

    >> we are talking about a cumulative set of events right now.

    >> next time, gene, you will be angry.

    >> go ahead, jonathan.

    >> gene, i wanted to ask you. there are republicans on the hill talking about yanking the funding from the libyan operation. one, will they succeed? and two, has any congress ever done that, yanked the funding from a military operation , yanked the funding from the troops?

    >> they will not succeed. as i recall, i believe congress did toward the end of the vietnam war , actually, pass a -- actually kind of de-fund a possible new deployment. but it won't succeed now. john boehner and the house leadership seem to have little appetite for going forward with using congress's only real power which is the power of the purse to stop this deployment or to bring the troops home. and in the senate, harry reid has already said the senate majority leader he supports the president so it's not really going to go anywhere. i think at most -- but can't we have hearings? can't we talk about this? can't we call the administration up to the hill and have them answer some of these questions that we have been asking for a couple of months?

    >> it is nonsense, isn't it, gene? it is absolute nonsense to, again, let's go back to the point number one. people probably should be more upset than they are that this president is claiming that the united states is not involved in hostilities when we killed several civilians just yesterday.

    >> yeah. and look. the fig leaf is that this is supposed to be a nato operation. well, the idea of their being a major nato military operation without the united states involvement, logistical support , surveillance, intelligence, without the united states providing essentially the underpinning for the whole operation it is ludicrous. doesn't happen. can't possibly happen. that's part of the problem with nato , basically us and, you know, the brits and the french and others but we're the foundation of nato so that simply does not pass the straight face test.

    >> all right.

    >> nato is a fig leaf that the united states has pulled out for some time. bill clinton did it in the balkans. and george w. bush did it regularly and now, of course, barack obama 's doing the same thing. at the end of the day , it is our troops that are fighting. our troops that are dying and our taxpayers paying billions of dollars to prop up europe and the rest of the world .

    >> thank you. your column online at washingtonpost.com. take a look.

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