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:
Florida Rep. John Mica (R) voted against both amendments [referring also to the sharper Chaffetz-Welch amendment], but said he considered supporting them.
"I told them I could’ve [voted for it but] it wasn’t specific enough," Mica said, adding that he’s "leaning toward getting" out of Afghanistan.
Mica believes that the sentiment of his conference is growing toward leaving Afghanistan, "and when somebody comes up with the right amendment, it’s going to pass."
All but eight Democratic Members of the House voted in favor of the McGovern-Amash amendment, including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer [D-MD], a leader among center-right Democrats in the House on national security issues. This vote represents, for practical purposes, the House Democratic Caucus speaking with one voice in favor of an accelerated drawdown.
Twenty-six Republican Members of the House voted in favor of the McGovern-Amash amendment, roughly a 200% increase in the number of Republicans voting against open-ended continuation of the war from the nine Republicans who voted for the McGovern amendment on July 1, 2010. As noted by Rep. Mica, there are other Republican Members of the House who are substantially in the same place, and are likely to support a future initiative if there is no significant change in Administration policy.
By the spectacular vote of 416-5, the House adopted an amendment initiated by Michigan Representative John Conyers prohibiting the introduction into Libya of U.S. ground troops (that is, uninformed forces, not Special Forces or CIA that are already there.)
The House also adopted by voice vote – meaning, this one is such a slam-dunk we don’t even have to bother having a recorded vote – an amendment introduced by Rep. Scott Garrett [R-NJ] affirming that "Nothing in this Act or any amendment made by this Act shall be construed to authorize military operations in Libya."
"[the] House of Representatives has clearly stated that the current stalemate in Libya will not escalate into an unaffordable occupation that would harm our country’s national security… I encourage my colleagues in the U.S. Senate to heed today’s vote and join our efforts to ensure that the conflict in Libya does not become another Afghanistan or Iraq."
Jake Tapper of ABC News reports that these lopsided results could augur well for a resolution in the House next week calling for full US military withdrawal from the Libya conflict in accordance with the War Powers Resolution:
Republicans in the House suggest that the two votes are an interesting indicator of the level of support in the House for ongoing operations over there.
Likely to hit the floor next week is a privileged resolution from Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, calling for full withdrawal from the action in accordance with the War Powers Act.
Could that pass? I asked a House GOP leadership aide.
"Honestly we don’t know," the aide said.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.