Two Votes on Libya

The House of Representatives has taken two votes on the war in Libya. In the first, the House voted 295 to 123 against authorizing the war. 70 Democrats voted or 36 percent of the caucus voted against authorization. That’s pretty impressive given that the Secretary of State made a personal appeal to her fellow partisans prior to the vote. Eight Republicans said “yes” to war in Libya, a smaller number than I would have expected. Partisanship, deficits, and elections do matter, I suppose.

On the other hand, the House also refused to cut off most funding for the war by a vote of 180-238.  Some 36 Democrats voted to cut off most funding; 144 Republicans joined them. This bill was said to be gaining strength but in the end, not nearly enough votes came over. It may be that the Obama administration will think this vote was better than expected and take heart.

Nonetheless, these votes may make a difference, even though they do not force the President to do anything in particular. A new book, After the Rubicon, by Douglas Kriner argues that Congress can affect how and how long a president pursues an unauthorized war. Specifically, congressional resistance to a war can help turn the public against a president’s policy. (Something like that happened in Somalia.) A new poll shows the war in Libya is losing public support: 46 percent of the public now disapprove of the endeavor.

Over the next few weeks, the Senate will take up the question of Libya. Will the President find a majority in that chamber to vote against the direction of public opinion?  Or will a majority of senators heed the public’s view of this unpopular, unauthorized war?