CORRECTION: The original version of this report mischaracterized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's stance on a no-fly zone in Libya.
The divide over America's role in the uprising in Libya grew deeper on Sunday as three influential senators questioned the Obama administration's cautious approach.
Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and John McCain, R-Ariz., put their support behind increasing America's role in the conflict by instituting a no-fly zone over Libya, though they generally agreed direct military involvement was inadvisable. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., stopped short of supporting it, saying it was "worth considering."
Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the air restriction should be the first measure on the table. Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, he said the “first hope” would be that it comes “in the context of international agreement and sanctions.”
“The last thing we want to think about is any kind of military intervention,” he added. “And I don't consider the fly zone stepping over that line.”
But Kerry's interpretation of the military requirements for a no-fly zone is at odds with the administration. Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates insisted that implementing the action would require bombing Libyan air defenses.
White House Chief of Staff William Daley defended the administration's use of non-military means to put pressure on Libyan ruler Muammar el-Qaddafi.
“The president has been very aggressive,” he said. “We initiated sanctions quicker than we've ever done in the past, froze $30 billion of Qaddafi's money in the U.S. We've been very aggressive in our coordination with the international community in looking at all options. And we've also been very aggressive in bringing humanitarian aid to the region to help people.”
However, Kerry was not alone in his interpretation. Despite heated disagreement over the federal budget, McConnell and Kerry shared common ground in raising questions about the lack of U.S. intervention.
McConnell, also on Face the Nation, agreed that the no-fly zone should be considered and raised the option of other tactics to help force Qaddafi’s ouster.
“The other option that John Kerry alluded to in passing that I think we used frequently during the Cold War period is simply aiding and arming the insurgents,” McConnell said.
Several military experts, including former national security adviser Stephen Hadley, have argued that the U.S. could covertly supply anti-Qaddafi protesters with weapons to defend themselves.
Violence against the rebels has increased in recent weeks as Qaddafi's regime tries to hold on.
Though Kerry did not say he supported arming the insurgents, he did acknowledge that it is likely that efforts to support the protests would include weapons support.
“I assume that a lot of weapons are going to find their way there from one means or another over the course of the next weeks,” he said.
McCain also weighed in Sunday with his support for instituting a no-fly zone in Libya.
“I have great respect for Secretary Gates and the outstanding job that he has done. We can't risk allowing Qaddafi to massacre people from the air,” he said on ABC's This Week.
He also spoke of the need to increase non-military efforts in the region in order to prevent a collapse in the wake of more than a month of protests in the region.
"Clearly, we are on the side of the rebels,” he said. "A ground intervention by the part of the United States could be very counterproductive, but we can assist in a lot of ways: humanitarian, intelligence, providing them with some training and other things we can do as they form up a provisional government in Benghazi."