Elizabeth Bewley, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON-Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker was one of five Republicans on the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee who voted Tuesday against legislation authorizing U.S. military action in Libya.
The bill, which the committee approved 14-5, would authorize the mission in Libya for a year.
Corker supported Republican amendments that would restrict the military's role and require more congressional input.
The amendments would prevent troops and private contractors from being deployed on the ground, require the White House to provide monthly reports on the mission's progress and cost, and require using Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's frozen assets to reimburse the U.S. for military costs.
Another Republican addition specifies that military actions in Libya require congressional approval, addressing a question that gave rise to heated debate at a hearing before the vote.
Harold Koh, a top State Department lawyer, told lawmakers the administration doesn't need Congress to approve military intervention in Libya - an assertion that Corker said amounts to "sticking a stick in the eyes of Congress."
Koh said the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which requires the president to get congressional approval within 60 days of deploying the military into "hostilities," doesn't apply to Libya because the U.S. is supporting a NATO operation.
Military action in Libya doesn't constitute hostilities because it's limited in scope, Koh said. There have been no American casualties and the risk the conflict will escalate is low, he added.
Corker called that argument "cute" and said it undermines the credibility of the administration and the war powers measure.
Saying a lack of U.S. casualties means hostilities aren't occurring is "preposterous," Corker told Koh.
"By that reasoning, we could drop a nuclear bomb on Tripoli and we would not be involved in hostilities," he said. "This administration has established a precedent for this country by taking this argument that any president, Republican or Democrat, can use Predator (drones) in any country they wish - because that is limited hostilities - without Congress being involved."
Corker and four other Republicans on the panel voted to amend the legislation to limit military spending in Libya to intelligence, refueling, operational planning, and search and rescue, but that amendment didn't pass.
Before the vote, Corker urged his colleagues to consider modernizing Congress' war powers authority to including Predator drones and other new technology.
Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts agreed such technology raises "serious constitutional questions," but challenged Corker's argument that Obama disregarded Congress.
Obama sought congressional approval, Kerry argued, but leaders in the House and Senate didn't take action.
"It's just wrong to suggest that somehow the president went outside the constitutional process here, when in fact Congress - us - have done nothing within those 60 days to either authorize it or declare war, or not."
The legislation now goes to the Senate floor for a vote. To become law, it would have to be passed by the House, which is unlikely. The House voted Friday not to authorize the mission in Libya, although it didn't cut off funding for military operations.
All of Tennessee's seven Republican House members voted Friday against authorizing military action. The state's two Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Jim Cooper of Nashville and Steve Cohen of Memphis, voted in favor.