This was a vote on a measure setting a time limit for debate and prohibiting amendments to two separate resolutions relating to U.S. military operations in Libya. The first resolution, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), would have required President Obama to withdraw U.S. troops from Libya within 15 days.
The second resolution, sponsored by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), reprimanded President Obama for not seeking authorization from Congress for military action in Libya, and called on the president to submit a report to Congress clarifying and justifying the U.S. mission in that country. In addition, the Speaker’s resolution expressed opposition to the use of U.S ground troops in Libya, or more specifically, “the presence of units and members of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Libya.”
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.
Both resolutions were non-binding—meaning they did not have the force of law. Kucinich’s resolution, however, explicitly stated that Obama had violated the War Powers Resolution, which requires the president to obtain congressional authorization for a commitment of U.S troops to an armed conflict lasting more than 60 days. Thus, Kucinich’s resolution sought to assert Congress’ authority under the War Powers Resolution and require President Obama to end U.S. involvement in Libya. In addition, his resolution was a “concurrent resolution”—meaning that it could be passed by both houses of Congress. Boehner’s resolution, however, was a “House resolution”—meaning it would never be considered by the Senate. Boehner’s measure did not require a withdrawal of U.S troops from Libya. Rather, it criticized the president for his failure to obtain congressional authorization for military action and called on Obama to submit a report justifying and clarifying the U.S. military’s mission in Libya.
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) supported Boehner’s resolution, but opposed Kucinich’s measure: “I am going to support Speaker Boehner's resolution, and I am going to probably oppose Representative Kucinich's resolution for this reason the Speaker convinced me of, and I listened very carefully to him: With regard to within 2 weeks pulling everything that we have in Libya out and coming home, it would set a dangerous precedent in regard to our NATO allies….I feel it would be a mistake to immediately, within 14 days, pull the rug out from under that operation. I am not completely satisfied with the Boehner resolution, but I think it does lay down a marker. It makes a statement.”
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) argued: “What the Boehner resolution simply does is it just expresses the view of Congress. Even though it has pretty strong words in it, it doesn't require the President to do anything. He doesn't have to do anything if this thing passes….What Mr. Kucinich does is he responds to the obligations that Congress has under the War Powers Resolution.”
The House agreed to the measure setting a time limit for debate and prohibiting amendments to both Libya resolutions by a vote of 257-156. All 232 Republicans present and 25 Democrats voted “yea.” 156 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, voted “nay.” As a result, the House proceeded to formal floor debate on two separate resolutions relating to U.S. military action in Libya.