This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) that would have prohibited funds provided by a Homeland Security Department funding bill from being used to violate the War Powers Resolution. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 requires the president to obtain congressional authorization for a commitment of U.S troops to an armed conflict lasting more than 60 days. This amendment was offered to legislation providing annual funding for Homeland Security Department (DHS) programs.
On March 19, 2011, the U.S. joined an international coalition (that included France, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Canada) to intervene in Libya’s civil war. This coalition aided rebels who had staged an uprising against the country’s dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, who had ruled Libya since 1969 and whose regime was notorious for human rights violations. On April 4, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO—an international coalition of 28 member countries) assumed operational control of the military mission in Libya. When this vote occurred, U.S troops had been deployed to Libya without congressional authorization for more than the 60 days permitted by the War Powers Resolution.
Sherman urged support for his amendment: “Why is this amendment necessary? Because so many administrations have embraced the idea of an imperial presidency, have embraced the idea that a United States president can send our forces into battle for an unlimited duration, unlimited in scope, and for whatever purposes the executive branch finds worthy. The War Powers Act is the law of this land, and it says that a President may indeed commit our forces but must seek congressional authorization and must withdraw in 60 days if that authorization is not provided by the vote of both Houses of Congress. But this president [President Obama], like some others, believes that he doesn't have to follow the law. And in fact in this case in Libya, we and our allies were not attacked but rather a very important purpose--or thought to be important by the President--presented itself and so he committed our forces….It is time for us to stand up and say, No, Mr. President, you actually have to follow the law.”
Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) opposed the amendment, arguing that it was unrelated (or not “germane”) to the underlying Homeland Security bill: “This amendment is not germane to the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill. This amendment is better addressed within the National Defense Authorization Act or the Defense appropriations bill.”
Rep. David Price (D-NC) also opposed the amendment, arguing it had no place in a Homeland Security spending bill: “I want to join Chairman Aderholt in urging rejection of this nongermane amendment. Members of course would not want to vote against contravening the law in anything that we do, but we have to acknowledge that this amendment is not germane to this bill. And the rhetoric that has attended the introduction of this amendment contains, just to put it mildly, insinuations and charges that this member finds unacceptable. This is not the place, however…to engage in a full debate of our Libyan operations or our foreign policy in general. So I will restrict myself to simply saying that I do think this amendment is inappropriate for this bill.”
The House rejected this amendment by a vote of 208-213. Voting “yea” were 111 Republicans and 97 Democrats—including a majority of progressives. 123 Republicans and 90 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the House rejected an amendment that would have prohibited funds provided by a Homeland Security Department funding bill from being used to violate the War Powers Resolution.