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Libya vote: How Speaker Boehner preserved GOP unity and US-NATO ties

In an 11th-hour maneuver, Speaker Boehner derails an antiwar measure that would have required Obama to withdraw US forces from NATO's Libya mission within 15 days.

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The Boehner resolution is “not a remedy,” said Rep. Jeff Flake (R) of Arizona, another RSC member. “It’s a mild rebuke followed by a questionnaire.”

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On Wednesday House GOP leaders dropped plans for a vote on the Kucinich measure after it appeared likely that GOP votes would put the measure over the top. In a caucus meeting on Thursday, Boehner appealed to GOP lawmakers to avoid a break with NATO allies and back his alternative.

“Boehner tried to water down and turn into pastels the plain language of the Kucinich amendment,” says libertarian Bruce Fein, president of American Freedom Agenda and a former associate deputy attorney general during the Reagan administration.

“The younger [members] are pushing Boehner. They think he flinched on the budget and are pushing him on this,” he added.

Friday’s floor debate focused both on the cost of the war and on presidential overreach. “There are a lot of tyrants around the world who ought to be replaced, but should the US go anywhere it wants around the world to get rid of a bad guy?” said Rep. Dan Burton (R) of Indiana, who voted for both the Boehner and Kucinich measures.

“The Congress of the United States is the body that is supposed to be consulted before we go to war. The president did not do this. We are contributing over $700 million … and it will be a billion before it’s over,” he added.

In a nod to the freshmen, GOP leaders gave freshmen Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R) of Illinois the closing speech of the floor debate.

“The greatest disinfectant to terrorism is not necessarily bombs, it’s freedom,” he said. “But Mr. President, you need to come to Congress and you need to say what our interests are there.”

But even with a conservative, tea-party bump, Friday’s votes signal that there is not yet majority support for pulling out of Libya. If such a measure had passed the House, it would have faced stiff, bipartisan opposition in the Senate, where leaders on both sides of the aisle squarely favor the NATO mission in Libya.

“Neither party at the end of the day wanted to stop this,” says Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow and defense policy analyst at the Brookings Institution. “You’ve got key people on both sides of the aisle who agree that we needed to get tough on [Libyan leader Muammar] Qaddafi and don’t want to call off the air campaign, so the debate is legalistic and procedural.”

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