Bipartisan Unrest Grows Over U.S. Role in Libya

Posted March 21, 2011 at 4:03pm

Updated: 5:38 p.m.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich said Monday that President Barack Obama is acting outside his power by authorizing military action in Libya and that he is reviewing legislative and parliamentary procedures available for ending U.S. involvement.

“The president may have been able to make the argument there was a threat to the citizens of Libya, but he cannot credibly make the argument that there was an actual or imminent threat to the United States,” the Ohio Democrat said in an interview. “Frankly, he has a lot of explaining to do.”

Obama has come under fire from lawmakers in both parties for not seeking Congress’ permission last week before committing military resources to enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, which was approved by the United Nations Security Council. In 2007, then-Sen. Obama said the U.S. president does not have the authority to unilaterally authorize a military attack without the consent of Congress, except in self-defense.

“What should have happened last week is that they should have held the Congress [from adjourning for this week’s recess], knowing that there was a possibility of military” action, Kucinich said. “Just think about this: He had time to talk to United Nations to garner 10 votes, time to talk to Arab League, obviously he talked to NATO and worked out a partnership with France and Great Britain. It seems like he talked to everyone except the United States Congress. There is no excuse that is constitutionally acceptable.”

Kucinich unsuccessfully called on Congress on Friday to come back into session to vote on whether the U.S. military should engage in Libya. Both chambers are in recess and will not be back in session until the week of March 28, and the mission began Saturday.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) and House Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) urged the president Friday to consult with Congress on the matter, while Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the ranking member on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, reminded Obama on the same day that “the president has an obligation under the Constitution to seek the approval of Congress for any use of military force unless there is an imminent threat to the United States or its allies.”

Kucinich posted on his Twitter account Monday that he plans to propose an amendment to the next continuing resolution to eliminate funds for the Libya intervention — an idea that could forge some unusual alliances.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz said Monday that he could “potentially” support legislative action that would end U.S. military involvement in Libya. The conservative Utah Republican said he is deeply concerned that Obama sought authorization from the United Nations for launching airstrikes in Libya but did not seek Congressional approval.

“This is another example of where the Congress ends up looking as if it is irrelevant,” he said. “Whether it’s the Department of the Interior, [Environmental Protection Agency] or going to war with Libya, the president seems to regard Congress as if it is irrelevant.”

Chaffetz criticized fellow Republicans for being “noticeably silent on this issue” but speculated that fiscal conservatives could join the movement against involvement in Libya.

“The cost will be an issue because it has nothing to do with our national security,” he said. “I haven’t heard anyone even pretend to make the case that is why we are doing this.”

White House officials maintain that Obama has the authority to launch strikes in Libya given the limited scope of the operation.

During a press briefing Sunday in Rio de Janeiro, where the president was promoting trade, national security adviser Tom Donilon said the administration is keeping Congress “fully informed as to what we are pursuing” in Libya but stopped short of saying Obama needs a Congressional sign-off for the type of action being taken.

“Consultation with Congress is important” in terms of defining the role the United States will play in the Libya attacks and in defining the outcome, Donilon said. “The administration welcomes the support of Congress in whatever form that they want to express that support.”

But given the limited “scope, duration and task” of the operation, it “does fall in the president’s authorities” to move forward with military action, he added.

Donilon noted that the situation in Libya escalated Thursday night, when lawmakers were leaving Capitol Hill and when the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution calling for the no-fly zone. Obama responded by calling Hill leaders Friday to consult with them on the situation, he said, and administration officials called them again Saturday.

In addition, the president plans to transfer authority to coalition partners “in a matter of days, not weeks,” to carry out further military operations in the region, Donilon said.

“But the administration welcomes expressions of support in whatever form that the Congress wants to have those,” he added.

Obama continues to emphasize that the United States is only part of a broader international coalition trying to stop Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi from inflicting violence on his people.

“We are one of the partners among many to ensure the no-fly zone is enforced,” Obama said during a Monday press briefing in Santiago, Chile.

The president sent a letter to Congress later Monday to reiterate what Donilon told reporters earlier: The president has the constitutional authority to pursue limited military action like the mission in Libya.

“The United States has not deployed ground forces into Libya,” he wrote in the letter addressed to President Pro Tem Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “United States forces are conducting a limited and well-defined mission in support of international efforts to protect civilians and prevent a humanitarian disaster.”