Reid defends U.S. military action in Libya

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid on Wednesday defended U.S. involvement in airstrikes over Libya, calling it "crucial" to the NATO alliance and to Libyans living under strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

"We must ask ourselves as senators, was our participation in this international effort to stop mass murder and chaos in Libya a just decision? I am confident it was," Reid, the Senate majority leader, said in a speech.

Reid, D-Nev., re-established his stance in favor of U.S. participation in the NATO-led operation, which seeks to force Gadhafi from power. It came as Congress heads toward votes on whether to back continued involvement or to block funding for U.S. forces.

Overall, Congress sent conflicting messages Wednesday about America's role in the mission.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said President Barack Obama lacks the support of the House for authorizing the U.S. military operation in Libya.

"I don't think that is where the House is," Boehner said. "The fact is the president has not made his case to the members of Congress. He's not made his case to the American people. We've been in this conflict for 90 days, and the president hasn't talked to the American people for four or five weeks about why we're there, what our national interest is and why we should continue."

House Republicans met behind closed doors on Wednesday to determine strategy. Leaders reportedly were forming a resolution that would limit U.S. participation, blocking funding for everything except "nonhostile" activities such as rescue missions and intelligence gathering to support NATO.

The House also would take up a competing resolution authorizing the use of U.S. force in Libya for one year, bar ground forces and require Obama to report to Congress on the mission.

A Boehner spokesman said the House likely would vote Friday on Libya.

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., introduced legislation Tuesday that would cut off funding for the Libya mission and require a U.S. pullout within 30 days after legislation is passed.

Heck spoke in favor of his legislation during the closed-door meeting, and drew a mixed reaction, Republicans said. It remained unclear whether his bill would get a vote.

In any case, legislation to withdraw from Libya is unlikely to be passed in the Senate, Reid said. Instead, he applauded a resolution introduced Tuesday by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and John McCain, R-Ariz., that would allow Obama to proceed but with a one-year limit.

"This bill should have overwhelming support, as I am confident it will," Reid said. He did not say when it might be brought up for a vote but leadership aides said debate probably would start in mid-July.

Some lawmakers from both parties have criticized Obama for failing to seek approval from Congress to take part in the Libya mission, arguing the president is in violation of the War Powers Act.

Aiming criticism at Republicans, Reid said that the War Powers Act was being used "as a political bludgeon to pursue a partisan agenda."

Reid said the United States, which is taking part in bombardments being led by Britain and France, is justified in seeking the removal of Gadhafi.

"Moammar Gadhafi's repressive dictator­ship is a threat to the region and to the United States' national security," Reid said. "Our support of this mission is crucial to our NATO alliances that are leading this mission for the people of Libya who have lived far too long under Gadhafi's brutal regime."

Reid said the Kerry-McCain resolution has drawn support from senators from both parties. The bipartisan grouping "has made a clear statement to our allies, to the world, to the Libyan people and to Gadhafi that we support the administration's actions on Libya."

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760.