Dem senators: Congress may hold vote on Libya next week

Not only is it The One’s own party that’s squawking about this, it’s his pal Dick Durbin who appears to be spearheading it. Which means they’ve definitely got the votes in the Senate to pass a resolution blessing the mission and figure that it’ll be a useful wedge to split neocons from libertarian isolationists within the GOP in the House.

Durbin, along with Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) held a conference call with reporters on Wednesday afternoon as part of the White House’s damage control effort following the widespread and bipartisan criticism over of the lack of congressional consultation before the intervention in Libya, and the lack of clarity over the mission’s goals.

“None of us can say with any certainty what will happen when we return, but under the War Powers Act, any senator can ask under privilege of the Senate to call this question, as to whether or not we will support these actions taken by the president,” Durbin said. “I think it’s consistent with our constitutional responsibility to take up that question,” through a vote…

“There may be some people who will try to end the [Libya] effort, if they try they won’t come anywhere near success in the Senate,” Levin said. “The reason I think the president will gain bipartisan support for his action is because he’s proceeded in a way which is cautious, thoughtful. He has put the ducks in a row before deciding to put the United States in the lead for a short period of time.”

Thus it came to be that leaving your Navy unsure of who’ll be in command next week constitutes “cautious, thoughtful” leadership.

Two wrinkles here. One: Durbin et al. may be pushing this now to get out in front of it, knowing that there’ll be criticism of Obama and the mission on the House and Senate floor next week. Rand Paul has already promised to make an issue of it and Boehner put out a statement tonight saying he’s “troubled” by how Obama has handled things. If Democrats start pushing the idea of a vote now, it’ll blunt the GOP’s argument that The One’s trying to wage war on the sly. Two: Remember that the War Powers Resolution requires the president to come back to Congress and get authorization for military action within 60 days after hostilities have begun. The Democrats may have held off on a vote initially in the vain hope that Qaddafi would crumble and the war would be over before that time period elapsed. Now that it looks like that won’t happen, and with the strategy becoming ever more nuanced, they probably (and smartly) figure that they’d better get an AUMF lickety split before things deteriorate and the public sours on the war, which will embolden Republicans to oppose it and make a lot of vulnerable Democrats in the Senate nervous.

As for now, though, the numbers in Congress are in Obama’s favor, which is why I’m still surprised that he didn’t ask for an authorization before the mission began. He probably would have gotten one — the Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning Qaddafi a few weeks ago, remember — which would have given him loads of political cover to proceed. And if they didn’t pass it, that would have given him political cover too. He could have washed his hands of the whole mess and blamed any humanitarian disasters in Libya on John Boehner. It’s mystifying that a guy who likes to hang back and let others take the lead on tough issues would have declined that opportunity in this case, with so much at stake.