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McCain Scolds White House on Libya

Sen. John McCain hammered President Barack Obama Thursday for claiming that U.S. military action in Libya does not rise to the level of hostilities governed by the War Powers Act.

The Arizona Republican is a strong supporter of Obama’s Libya policy. But McCain, during a scathing floor speech, said it is not credible to contend that the country’s military effort in Libya is too minimal to require Capitol Hill’s approval. Still, he said Congress should bless U.S. involvement in the North African country.

McCain blamed Obama for the brewing confrontation between the White House and Congress over Libya, saying it could have been prevented had the administration sought approval for military action and better communicated with Members early on.

“I think what the president did was he brought this whole issue to a head now because of this, really, incredible interpretation that we are not necessarily — that the War Powers Act does not apply to our activities in Libya; we are. We are engaged in a conflict,” McCain, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, told reporters following his floor speech. “Now, that engagement is limited, I will admit. But, for example, we have predator drones now that are hitting targets and killing people. That’s a conflict.”

In response to House demands for a justification of the U.S. bombing missions in Libya, the White House issued a report Wednesday that insisted the administration does not need Congress’ approval to continue its participation the NATO-led mission to enforce a no-fly zone and an arms embargo. The report stated that the mission is limited and that U.S. military personnel are not in direct engagement with Libyan forces led by dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

McCain is authoring a resolution of approval with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.). Such legislation has yet to receive a vote in the Senate because the chamber lacks consensus on how to proceed. The War Powers Act requires the president to seek approval for military action within 60 days after hostilities have commenced. That deadline has passed.

While Senate opposition to the White House Libya policy has been rather muted, unrest in the House has been palpable.

On Wednesday, House Republicans and Democrats were critical of administration report’s claims that the War Powers Act does not apply to Libya.

House Speaker John Boehner said he would consider how to proceed on the issue of Libya next week. Speaking at a press conference Thursday, the Ohio Republican criticized Obama’s failure to consult Congress on the issue, and suggested the chamber could take up the issue some time next week.

“The White House says there are no hostilities taking place, yet we have got drone attacks under way, we’re spending $10 million a day,” Boehner said. “We’re part of an effort to drop bombs on Gadhafi’s compounds. It doesn’t pass the straight face test, in my view, that we’re not in the midst of hostilities.”

Boehner called on Obama “to outline to the American people why we are there, what the mission is and what our goals are, and how do we exit this.”

Asked what kind of recourse he might take, Boehner was short on details.

“The House has options,” he said. “We’re looking at those options, and my guess is that next week we may be prepared to move on those options based on the answers to the questions that we get.”

At a separate press conference Thursday, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she was reviewing the administration’s report on Libya and maintained that Obama does not need Congressional approval to continue military efforts there.

“Part of that report shows an interaction and consultation with Congress and I’m satisfied that we can continue with the limited role that’s part of NATO,” the California Democrat said.

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