House Votes to Continue Libya Policy

Yes, you read that correctly.

Doug Mataconis beat me to the basics on the two votes today in the House on Libya, but I have a slightly different take on the subject, so will post on the subject as well.

First, to echo Doug, I agree that this is a failure on the part of House leadership as all this does is muddy the waters in regards to the chamber’s views on this subject.  By extension it renders the Congress inert on the Libya question as now the legislature has acted, but in a way that results in inaction.

Put another way, this comes across as the House saying “we want to complain about not being consulted, but we really don’t want to render an actual opinion.”  Let’s face facts, if the leadership actually wanted a definitive statement, it could have constructed one.  Instead, it choose to schedule votes on two contradictory resolutions knowing that neither would pass.

So, they acted without actually acting.

Second, the vote today is a de facto vote of support for the President’s policy on Libya.  If Congress is not going to assert itself under the War Powers Act or in its general role as overseers of the military, then it knows that the President will continue the policy.  This is just another example, and it has been played out multiple times over the years, that the Congress really does not want to insert itself into defense policy (there’s a reason why I said the  other day that a vote to defund  the action “would be historic in scope”).

In short:  by failing to act they have tacitly agreed to allow the policy to continue as it has.

FILED UNDER: National Security, US Politics, , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Considering that they explicitly refused to authorize military action, I’m not sure that the White House would be able to spin this into an endorsement of the current policy without the entire White House Press Room breaking out in gales of laughter

  2. They refused to do anything. A null vote doesn’t mean anything. As such, it is as good as a vote in favor of the status quo.

    Indeed, it shows that they aren’t serious about their oversight responsibilities. If I was the President, I’d spin it as an endorsement as well.

  3. I would refer to it as cowardly inaction but I think a vote against authorization is a strong signal in and of itself

  4. @Doug:

    I would agree if it was an affirmative vote against action. A failure to pass authorization is a bit different, especially since the chance to do the opposite failed as well.

    This absolutely is inaction and it was designed as such. No vote like this goes to the floor with leadership wanting it to do so. Further, they certainly knew what the vote was likely to be as well.

  5. @Steven

    The defeated authorization bill was brought to the floor as the Democratic alternative to the defunding bill, which I believe is a normal course of action in the House.

  6. @Doug,

    It is possible that there is some specific procedure or rule that I am missing here, but I am unaware of any guarantees to the opposition to offer alternatives in the House (or, for that matter, in the Senate). On balance, the majority totally controls what makes it to the floor in the House (although there are enough arcane procedures that I am mistaken in this case).

    Regardless: what we have here are two failed measures. If the House leadership had wanted to actually make a difference in the Libya matter they could have negotiated a resolution that would have accomplished that feat. They chose not to do so knowing full well that they result would be the status quo.

  7. Actually it looks like what happened was that Hillary’s visit to the Hill this morning to lobby the Democratic Caucus not to vote against the President worked. The Democratic opposition to this action is far higher than the vote total on the defunding bill indicates.

  8. That may well be true. Still, unless a majority of the chamber is willing to act, they just a bunch of guys and gals with opinions and nothing more.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    Did anyone honestly expect anything different?

    They wanted to make a point about Congressional prerogatives, they made some noise, then they went home to eat barbecue with their donors while the White House continues doing what it’s been doing.

    No one really gives a damn about a mini-war with no US casualties. Most Americans have forgotten it’s going on. The only guy I know who even pays the slightest attention to the actual military situation there is me, and even I’m bored with it.

  10. ponce says:

    Still, unless a majority of the chamber is willing to act, they just a bunch of guys and gals with opinions and nothing more.

    Sentence of the week.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    To repeat myself (quoting Cosell quoting Yeats):

    “full of sound and fury,
    signifying nothing”

    Doug, You need to get … A dose of reality. Ask yourself a simple question: If BO had an R after his name, how would the Reps of Congress have voted?

    You know and I know and so does everyone else what the result would be.

  12. PD Shaw says:

    The War Powers Resolution suggests that a vote for funding cannot be inferred to be authorization:

    Authority to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situations wherein involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances shall not be inferred–
    (1) from any provision of law (whether or not in effect before the date of the enactment of this joint resolution), including any provision contained in any appropriation Act, unless such provision specifically authorizes the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into such situations and stating that it is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of this joint resolution;

  13. PD Shaw says:

    (Usuaul disclaimer: I think the WPR is unconstitutional; but most people, including presumably the Congress, are operating under the belief that it at least creates expectational norms of behavior.)

  14. A voice from another precinct says:

    Doug: You cannot turn this pig’s ear into a Gucci clutch no matter how many times you say “Look! Isn’t that a Gucci logo? I’m sure it is!” Even if you photoshop it, everyone will still know it’s a pig’s ear. The Republicans in the House got their rant in about the President overstepping and the Dems got to be against the conflict but still support the President–back to business as usual.

    MIchael: Do you think the barbecue will have whole deep-fried turkey? I’ve been wanting to try it for ages now. How many thousand to whose slush fund (oops, I meant PAC) to get an invite?

  15. michael reynolds says:

    A voice:

    You know, it’s funny how cheap politicians are. I gave a few thou to various politicians several cycles ago, including to David Bonior who was then House whip, IIRC.

    I’m on my way to the grocery store one day and there’s a call. It’s Dave. Dave wants to talk to Michael about issues! Because suddenly we’re best buddies, me and Dave.

    The family was already in the car, so I had to chill Dave Bonior. I don’t think I sent him more than $500.