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Senators introduce first bipartisan resolution on Libya mission

By Dana Bash, CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Senators seek bipartisan support for the Libya mission
  • The resolution falls short of congressional authorization
  • President Obama supports the resolution

Washington (CNN) -- Veteran U.S. Sens. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, and John McCain, R-Arizona, formally introduced a bipartisan resolution Monday expressing Congress' support for U.S. military action in Libya, laying the groundwork for what could be the first congressional action on the mission since it began more than two months ago.

However, the resolution falls short of explicitly giving the president congressional authorization for U.S. military involvement in Libya.

This past Friday marked a 60-day deadline that, under the War Powers Act, required President Barack Obama to get congressional authorization for the war in Libya or begin to withdraw troops.

The president never met that deadline, but late Friday, he sent a letter to congressional leaders endorsing the Libya resolution Kerry and McCain had been working on as something he would welcome.

"It has always been my view that it is better to take military action, even in limited actions such as this, with congressional engagement, consultation, and support," Obama wrote in the letter.

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The resolution by Kerry and McCain, which they had been working on for some time but until now had not made public, is not a formal authorization of military action in Libya. The resolution makes no mention of the War Powers Act.

It "supports the limited use of military force by the United States in Libya as part of the NATO mission to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011), as requested by the Transitional National Council, the Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council."

It also calls on the president to:

-- Submit to Congress a description of U.S. policy objectives in Libya, both during and after the rule of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and a detailed plan to achieve those objectives

-- Consult regularly with Congress regarding U.S. efforts in Libya.

As for House action, Kevin Smith, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, tells CNN "No decisions have been made about how to proceed and we'll discuss it with our members."Earlier in the day, House Majority Whip Eric Cantor suggested Libya may be addressed in an amendment as part of a broader House debate this week on a defense bill, but it's unclear what the language would be, if any.

McCain told CNN that there was "no motivation to do it before. Now there seems to be."

In a statement announcing the resolution, the senators said they sought strong bipartisan backing for the Libya mission.

"The country is on the strongest footing when the president and Congress speak with one voice on foreign policy matters," Kerry said in the statement. "I'm pleased to have worked on this resolution with a strong bipartisan coalition and I welcome debate and congressional action on this important issue."

Another co-sponsor, conservative Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said he disagreed with "certain aspects" of Obama's Libya strategy but supported the NATO-led mission.

It is still unclear when, or if, Senate Democratic leaders will bring up this resolution for a vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told CNN Monday morning it had not been decided.

Perceived inaction on the part of Obama has angered some lawmakers from both the left and the right, who rarely agree on anything.

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-California, told CNN last week that he believed Obama was trying to "bring democracy to Libya while shredding the Constitution of the United States."

"He cannot continue what he is doing in Libya without congressional authorization. When a president defiantly violates the law, that really undercuts our efforts to urge other countries to have the rule of law," Sherman said.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, concurred.

"You could say, 'Well, we have a good president, he'll do the right thing.' Well, some day you may have a president who does the wrong thing, and that's why you have rules, because you can never count on people being good people," Paul told CNN. He called it "appalling" and a "terrible precedent" to engage in military action without the people's representatives -- Congress -- debating it.

Both Sherman and Paul expressed frustration with their own party leaders, who had not pushed for congressional action in the two months that the United States has been engaged in Libya.

CNN Congressional Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this story.