WASHINGTON -- A Republican-led effort to repeal the 1973 War Powers Act was narrowly defeated in the House yesterday, victim of what its once-confident sponsors conceded was "bad timing" in the midst of congressional anxiety over a possible U.S. role in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Despite an impassioned appeal by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., a number of GOP freshmen bolted party ranks and sided with Democrats to defeat a repeal of the Vietnam War-Era act by a 217-201 vote.
[In the Maryland delegation, Republicans Connie Morrella and Wayne Gilchrest joined their Democratic colleagues to oppose the measure.]
The outcome appeared to surprise both sides in an unusual debate that put Republicans in the unaccustomed position of defending a Democratic president's constitutional authority from criticism by members of his own party.
But the role reversal was short-lived as the House continued debate on a GOP bill that would make steep cuts in foreign aid and challenge President Clinton's policies toward a number of ,, countries.
With even defenders of the War Powers Act conceding it is fatally flawed, Republican leaders had been voicing confidence they would finally succeed in repealing a law that has been a source of controversy and conflict between Congress and the Executive branch ever since its enactment over a weakened President Nixon's veto.
The act, in theory, limits a president's ability to send American troops to foreign wars to 60 days without congressional consent.
Long opposed to what they had come to regard, under successive GOP administrations, as an unconstitutional infringement on the president's powers as commander-in-chief, conservatives portrayed yesterday's vote as a final exorcism of the ghost of Vietnam from American foreign policy.
But they quickly ran up against a new specter: Bosnia.
Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., chief sponsor of the repeal, conceded: "It was a dangerous amendment to offer with Bosnia imminent. This was perceived by some people as strengthening Mr. Clinton's hand on Bosnia, and they didn't want to have to go home and try to explain why they had done that."