Lawmakers Still Upset Despite Flurry of Libya Briefings

Posted March 25, 2011 at 5:44pm

The White House’s effort to play catch-up with Congressional leaders on U.S. military intervention in Libya has done little to placate lawmakers who have become increasingly frustrated with President Barack Obama.

Obama and administration aides launched an aggressive Capitol Hill lobbying effort late last week, holding a last-minute bipartisan, bicameral briefing Friday, the day after announcing that administration officials would hold a classified briefing for House lawmakers Wednesday.

In the Friday briefing, Obama emphasized that the military action wasn’t led by America and said the need to restore stability in the region was paramount for humanitarian reasons, according to an aide familiar with the call.

Tonight, the president will address the nation on Libya.

The information blitz comes after the United Nations Security Council authorized a no-fly zone in response to the Libyan government’s violent crackdown on political opposition. An international coalition, which includes the U.S., began enforcing the no-fly zone March 19.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers have publicly spoken out against the military effort in Libya. In particular, Obama’s decision to move ahead without consulting Congress irked several Members, who questioned the president’s authority to engage in acts of war without Congressional consent. 

The administration’s campaign to stymie mounting criticism over the U.S. military involvement in Libya comes as lawmakers return to Washington, D.C., after a weeklong recess, and as Senate and House committees have called administration officials to testify on Libya.

Several Congressional aides said there had been a marked increase in the administration’s efforts to make lawmakers feel they are in the loop.

“They are definitely trying to make more overtures,” one Democratic leadership aide said. “In a perfect world, they’d be turning this over to NATO and have as little U.S. involvement [in Libya] as possible when Members get back.”

Administration officials also held Congressional staff briefings on Libya last week.

Still, the aides noted that no matter how much outreach the administration does, there will be several liberal lawmakers who remain outspoken against the effort.

“I’m not sure you can make Members who are worked up less concerned,” the aide said.

Liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich has been particularly outspoken, moving to introduce a resolution that would defund the U.S. military effort in Libya in the next spending measure. The Ohio Democrat also denounced the administration’s explanation that NATO would take over command of the no-fly zone in Libya, pointing to the U.S.’s dominant role in funding NATO.

The Libya issues are just the latest in a series of exchanges between Obama and Congress. For weeks, lawmakers have called on Obama to take a more active role in the standoff over spending levels in the government for the next six months. 

But several Republican aides said that with Libya, Obama’s efforts may be too little, too late. GOP aides pointed out that the administration’s decision to hold Wednesday’s briefing came at the behest of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and was not an idea that originated in the White House. 

One GOP aide said the outreach hasn’t done anything to resolve the problem.

“The Congress — and the American people — still have serious and substantive concerns,” the aide said.

A Democratic leadership aide had a more tempered response to the administration’s handling of the Libya situation.

“While efforts are made by White House to ensure that information is flowing to Congress and that Members are consulted, fast-moving events in Libya require that lines of communications remain constantly open,” the aide said.

For its part, the White House maintains that Obama and other top officials have been in regular contact with Hill leaders all along. During a press briefing last week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney listed off more than a dozen committee hearings and closed meetings on Libya that have taken place over the past month, citing dates and names of administration officials who met with lawmakers. He noted that Obama met with Hill leaders to discuss a “limited and discreet mission” in Libya just before the U.S. military became involved.

“Questions outlined by Members of Congress have by and large been answered,” Carney said. Obama has been engaged with Capitol Hill “in a very substantial way. And we will continue to do that.”

The White House spokesman dismissed the idea that Obama’s Friday call to Hill leaders was in response to their criticisms about Congress being ignored as the U.S. proceeds with military action in Libya.

Friday’s call was just another in “a series of consultations” that Obama and administration officials have had with lawmakers, Carney said. “It’s a part of the process.”