Scrambling to turn back the fiercest congressional challenge to the president's military authority on Libya, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pleaded Thursday with House Democrats to continue U.S. military involvement in the NATO-led operation.
Defiant Republican leaders pushed toward a crucial vote to cut off funds for hostilities.
Just hours after bluntly posing the question, "Whose side are you on?" -- Moammar Gadhafi's or the Libyan people's -- Clinton met with rank-and-file Democrats to explain the mission and the stakes if the House votes to prohibit funds.
The administration requested the closed-door meeting.
"The issue today, as she pointed out, was whether or not we were going to abandon what is an effort that our allies have made at the request of the United Nations, the Arab League and others to intervene and to support our allies in this effort," Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, said after the session.
House Republicans and Democrats are furious with President Obama for failing to seek congressional authorization for the 3-month-old war against Libya, as required under the War Powers Resolution. The 1973 law, often ignored by Republican and Democratic presidents, says the commander in chief must seek congressional consent within 60 days. That deadline has long passed.
A New York Times report that said Obama overruled some of his legal advisers further incensed members of Congress.
Reflecting the widespread dissatisfaction, House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said the chamber will vote today on two measures: a resolution to authorize the operation and legislation that would cut off funds for hostilities such as Predator drone attacks and airstrikes.
Rep. Howard Berman of California, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said such a vote "ensures the failure of the whole mission."
In Tripoli, Gadhafi supporters rallied after the Libyan leader lashed out at NATO over civilian casualties, calling the alliance "murderers" following an airstrike on the family home of an associate.
"What you are doing will rebound against you and against the world with destruction, desolation and terrorism. You are launching a second crusader war that might extend to Africa, Europe and America," he said in an audio address.