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Senate punts on Libya debate, again

Senate punts on Libya debate, again

The Senate indefinitely delayed its plan to debate the war in Libya on Tuesday, with Republicans decrying the very fact that the topic was on the table in the first place.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) cancelled the Senate’s July 4 recess after President Barack Obama taunted lawmakers for leaving town while the country careens toward a fiscal crisis due to the lack of a deal over how to raise the debt ceiling. But since there’s no progress on that front, Reid brought up the Kerry-McCain resolution to authorize Obama’s military intervention in Libya.

But several senior Republicans took to the floor on Tuesday afternoon to object to debating the Libya mission at all and pledged to vote no on moving to debate the war — arguing that the budget crisis was more pressing. Sensing that the vote was doomed to fail, Reid pulled the measure off the floor.

"Just to speak to how dysfunctional the U.S. senate is, we’re here over the debt ceiling, but instead of focusing on the issue at hand, we’re going to focus on something that’s irrelevant possibly and has nothing to do with why we’re here," Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), said on the Senate floor on Tuesday afternoon. "Let’s not take up an issue that will have no effect on and has nothing to do with the debt ceiling, and take on those issues that will."

Corker is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Several other key Republicans, such as Senate Armed Services Committee members Robert Wicker (R-MS) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), promised to vote no on cloture, arguing not the merits of the war but rather the need to move immediately to budget matters.

The Senate has avoided a full vote on the Libya war for over three months and the complicated politics of the issue have placed both Republicans and Democrats in an uncomfortable position. For Democrats, they are being pressed by the administration to back the president’s decision. Voting no risks the ire of the White House. But if they vote yes, their constituencies may fault them for supporting yet another war with an uncertain timeframe and costs.

For Republicans, voting no would risk ceding the national security high ground to a Democratic president; voting yes would put them on record pledging more American treasure to yet another unpopular and expensive foreign intervention.

Before Reid pulled the measure, several other senators were also set to vote no on debating the Libya war tonight based on their opposition to the mission or their anger at the president for not properly consulting Congress before attacking. Senators opposed to the Libya war overall include Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA), Ron Paul (R-KY), and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN).

In his own floor speech on Thursday, Lugar objected to authorizing the Libya mission based on the cost and his dissatisfaction with the administration’s justifications.

"American intervention in Libya did not come as a result of a disciplined assessment of our vital interests or an authorization debate in Congress," Lugar said. "A civil war in Libya is not a priority that required American military and economic investments. It is an expensive diversion that leaves the United States and our European allies with fewer assets to respond to other contingencies."

Lugar maintains that the War Powers Resolution does apply to the mission in Libya, despite the administration’s claim there are no "hostilities" going on there, and he continues to demand clearer explanations of the mission’s objectives, timelines, and costs.

"Even if one believes that the president somehow had the legal authority to initiate and continue U.S. military operations in Libya, it does not mean that going to war without Congress was either wise or helpful to the operation," Lugar said. "There was no good reason why President Obama should have failed to seek congressional authorization to go to war in Libya."

The House already rejected a similar measure to authorize the Libya war by a 123 to 295 vote on June 24. The House also narrowly rejected a motion to largely defund the mission, but that measure would have passed if not for some lawmakers’ belief that it constituted a backdoor authorization for the war.

If today’s vote had passed with 60 yes votes, a full debate over the war would have immediately followed, setting up a final vote on the Kerry-McCain resolution on Thursday afternoon.

But now, the Libya war debate will be shelved in the Senate until Reid brings it up again, probably after the debt ceiling deadline of Aug. 2, and perhaps much later. Our Hill sources tell us they expect the any further senate debate over Libya to be postponed until after the August congressional recess.