Speech Fails to Sway Capitol Hill Critics

Posted March 28, 2011 at 9:45pm

President Barack Obama’s speech Monday night about the U.S. military intervention in Libya did little to quell criticism from liberal Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who has been a leading critic of the mission and is pushing to defund the effort, reiterated his opposition in an interview on MSNBC.

Saying the speech sounded “eerily similar” to President George W. Bush, Kucinich criticized the White House for not going “to the House of Representatives for permission to go to war.”

When asked whether Obama had swayed him at all, the Ohio Democrat said, “No, I heard an Obama doctrine that war is an executive privilege.”

Rep. Anthony Weiner defended Obama in the same interview, although the New York Democrat said he was also troubled by a lack of consultation with Congress. The United States led an international coalition in the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya, where the regime of Moammar Gaddafi was violently cracking down on civilians as he sought to quell political protests. The mission began March 19, and command over it is being transitioned to NATO.

“What’s the point of being a powerful country with high ideals if we never lift a finger to do anything” in defense of those ideals? Weiner asked. “I think the president struck that right tone” in his speech, he added.

Weiner also criticized Democrats such as Kucinich who have begun working with conservatives against the mission. “I don’t think we should be giving aid to those who are oppositionists to the president at every turn,” he said.

Some Democratic leaders on the Hill rallied around the White House’s position.

“I support the president’s decision not to commit ground troops to this mission, [and] I share the president’s determination to see this tyrant removed from power,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement.

Likewise, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) strongly defended Obama’s decision, saying in a statement, “I support this lifesaving effort, which has been authorized by the United Nations and backed by our European allies and the Arab League.”

But others, such as Sen. Barbara Boxer, were largely noncommittal. “Obama reminded the country tonight of why it was critical for the international community to take action to prevent the mass slaughter of innocent men, women and children by Moammar Gaddafi’s forces,” the California Democrat said in a statement, but she did not explicitly endorse the administration’s efforts or expanded military action in the country.

The speech received a cool response from Republicans on Capitol Hill, who questioned Obama’s decision process as well as whether the United States should back Libyan rebels.

“It was helpful that the American people were able to hear from their commander in chief tonight,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “Unfortunately, Americans waited a long time to get few new answers. Whether it’s the American resources that will be required, our standards and objectives for engaging the rebel opposition, or how this action is consistent with U.S. policy goals, the speech failed to provide Americans much clarity to our involvement in Libya.

“Nine days into this military intervention, Americans still have no answer to the fundamental question: what does success in Libya look like?” Steel added.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was particularly critical of Obama in a floor speech before the president’s remarks.

“The president has failed to explain up to this point what follows the evident establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya, as it was originally described,” the Kentucky Republican said. “Further, the president has articulated a wider political objective of regime change in Libya that is not the stated objective of our military intervention, nor is it the mandate of the U.N. resolution that the president has used as a justification for our military efforts there.”

In a webcast response to the speech, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) charged that the White House “has ignored our Constitution and engaged us in a military conflict without Congressional debate and approval.”

“While the president is the commander of our armed forces, he is not a king,” the Kentucky Republican said. “He may involve those forces in military conflict only when authorized by Congress or in response to an imminent threat. Neither was the case here.”

Paul, whose name has been mentioned as a potential 2012 presidential contender, argued that it is unclear whether the United States should side with the rebels, alleging that al-Qaida may be involved.

“We simply do not know enough about the potential outcomes or leaders to know if this will end up in the interests of the United States, or if we are in fact helping to install a radical Islamic government in the place of a secular dictatorship,” Paul said.

But not all Republicans were critical. Sen. John McCain, who has pushed for a military intervention for weeks, hailed the administration. “I welcome the President’s strong defense of our military action in Libya, and I appreciate that he explained why this intervention was both right and necessary in light of the unprecedented democratic awakening now sweeping the broader Middle East,” the Arizona Republican said in a statement.