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.
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.
"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.
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."
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."