Voting on amendments on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, the House of Representatives took action to hasten the end of the wars in Afghanistan and Libya.
By a 204-215 vote [roll call] - six switchers would have passed the amendment - the House narrowly failed to adopt a bipartisan amendment from Reps. Jim McGovern [D-MA] and Justin Amash [R-MI] that would have required the Department of Defense to develop a plan for an "accelerated transition of military operations to Afghan authorities."
It may seem counter-intuitive to count narrowly failing to adopt an amendment as "taking an action," but in terms of consequences, it is taking action. Getting more than 200 votes sends a signal to the White House: if you don't move - for example, by announcing a significant drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan this summer - you could lose the next vote in the House. And if the Administration lost a vote in the House on the Afghanistan war, you can bet that would be front-page news in Europe, weakening the Administration's case to the Europeans for continuing the status quo. It seems likely that the Administration will want to stay one step ahead of the House, rather than face a public defeat. That points toward an accelerated drawdown this year.
If 204 Members were willing to vote yes, it seems extremely likely that 6 House Members who voted no gave a yes vote serious consideration. Indeed, The Hill reports:
The most important content of Presidential speeches is often what they don't say. Here are some things that President Obama didn't say about Libya in his speech last night.
The President did not answer his critics who asked why he took America into war without authorization by Congress. This question was made sharper on Sunday when Jake Tapper of ABC asked Defense Secretary Gates,
"Do you think Libya posed an actual or imminent threat to the United States?"
"No, no," was Gates' reply. "It was not - it was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest and it was an interest for all of the reasons Secretary Clinton talked about."
The significance of Tapper's question was that Tapper used the exact language that Obama used as a candidate for President in describing the limits of the authority of the President under the Constitution to initiate hostilities without Congressional authorization:
"The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."
Apparently Defense Secretary Gates does not think that the situation in Libya met the standard that candidate Obama set in December 2007 for acting without Congressional authorization.