Friday, June 3, 2011

Kucinich convinces House to vote on Libya

Dennis Kucinich might be a gadfly, an "outlier," a radical solo act in Congress, but you can't say he's ignored. Not after today, when the House is finally, belatedly, debating the war in Libya.

Right now, the House is debating Kucinich's bill that would force President Obama to end U.S. participation in the NATO air strikes in Libya in 15 days. It's also debating House Speaker John Boehner's hastily written alternative, which calls on Obama to justify the operation to Congress and prohibits introducing American ground troops. Votes are set on both bills today.

It's a major shift from a few weeks ago, when Congress looked ready to give up on the War Powers Act with barely a whimper. The controversial 1973 law says presidents have to stop military actions after 60 days if they don't get approval from Congress. No president has ignored the War Powers Act like Obama has with Libya. The 60 days came and went last month, with hardly anyone in Congress raising a fuss.

But Kucinich pushed ahead with his bill, which started attracting a surprising amount of support from Republicans ready to stand up for Congress' power to declare war. Take a look at this Washington Post story on the Libya bills, which calls Kucinich "one of Congress' perennial outliers," but says his bill attracted "much broader support than expected."

Boehner almost found himself outflanked. He had to pull Kucinich's bill off the House floor Wednesday out of fear it might pass. "Boehner argued that it would be politically dangerous to essentially turn over the floor to Kucinich," the Capitol newspaper Roll Call reported yesterday.

Kucinich responded with a letter yesterday arguing that his bill is the real way to defend the War Powers Act and Congress' war-making authority.

This may not actually affect the war much. That Washington Post story also says Obama shows no intention of changing his approach with Congress on Libya. But Kucinich at least helped Congress stiffen its spine and assert itself about presidents making war. He made himself a force in the Libya debate -- or rather, he forced Congress to even have a debate about the war.

Update, 2:05 p.m.: Kucinich's bill was voted down, 265-148. Boehner's bill passed, 268-145. Interestingly, more Republicans than Democrats supported Kucinich's bill. 3:05 p.m.: Here's the Post story on the two votes.

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