Boehner Gives Obama Until Friday To Justify Libya Mission

The House GOP and the White House moved one step closer to a constitutional confrontation, but is it much ado about nothing?

Speaker John Boehner has sent an unusually strong demand to the White House asking the President to provide the legal basis for America’s mission in Libya by Friday pursuant to the War Powers Act:

Stepping up a simmering constitutional conflict, House Speaker John A. Boehner warned President Obama on Tuesday that unless he gets authorization from Congress for his military deployment in Libya, he will be in violation of the War Powers Resolution.

In a letter sent Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Boehner, the top Republican in the constitutional chain of succession, said Mr. Obama must provide a clear justification for committing troops to Libya by Friday. Sunday marks the 90th day since the president notified Congress that U.S. troops had been committed to help enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, which is designed to protect the rebels fighting Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s government.

In a letter sent Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Boehner, the top Republican in the constitutional chain of succession, said Mr. Obama must provide a clear justification for committing troops to Libya by Friday, which marks the 90th day since the president committed U.S. troops, and the clock started ticking under the War Powers Resolution.

“The Constitution requires the president to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed,’ and one of those laws is the War Powers Resolution, which requires an approving action by Congress or withdrawal within 90 days from the notification of a military operation,” Mr. Boehner said in the letter.

The question is, what if the President refuses to comply, or doesn’t comply in a manner that satisfies the Republican House. The War Powers Act itself is Constitutionally questionable for several reasons, and Congress itself has largely ceded authority over foreign affairs that doesn’t directly involve declaring war to the Executive Branch. If the House GOP isn’t satisfied with the President’s response, what do they do next? Refuse to pass a defense bill as long as the Libya mission is on going? That won’t necessarily work politically. Pass legislation to try to stop the Libya mission? That will die in the Senate. Try to challenge the President in Court? It’s fairly well established that no Federal Court is going to take jurisdiction of a dispute like this.

This is a welcome debate, for sure, but I’m not sure how far the GOP is willing to take it, or whether they really mean it, especially when some Republicans are already calling for a new military mission in Syria. More importantly, though, I can’t help but think that this is entirely political, for the reasons James Joyner hit on earlier today:

Let’s face it, there’s a partisan aspect to all this. Candidates in the out party almost always criticize the wars started on a president’s watch. Had McCain been elected in 2008 and events otherwise unfolded as they have, we’d have gone into Libya much earlier and much harder. And all these folks-except, naturally, Ron Paul-would be cheerleading for it.

This is especially true with respect to Libya, where we saw Republicans spending a good part of February and March calling on the President to “do something” with regard to  the Gaddafi government’s crackdown against the rebels, such as establish a no-fly zone. Most of these calls were made without any regard for exactly who these rebels were or whether a no-fly zone would accomplish anything. Once action was taken, opposition to the Libyan mission suddenly became a Republican talking point. I can’t help but think that, for many in Congress, that has more to do with who the President than the wisdom of the policy. If John McCain were President, would these same people be speaking out against the military action that we know he inevitably would have taken (possibly more than a no-fly zone)?  Except for the Ron Paul’s of the world, the answer is clearly no.

So, let’s just say I’m not all that impressed at the moment with the House GOP on this issue because there’s no real evidence that they’ve changed their mind about the wisdom of foreign military intervention, just the wisdom of foreign military intervention when a Democrat is in office.


FILED UNDER: Africa, Congress, Military Affairs, National Security, US Politics, World Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Hey Norm says:

    Or what? Boehner’s gonna cry?

  2. A voice from another precinct says:

    This dispute has the same feel as the various, and continual for the last two or three years, UN resoultions regarding North Korea–showing resolve, and overall powerlessness in the situation, by “forcefully denouncing” NK actions and re-upping the sanctions that create misery and starvation for NK people, but do little that affects either Chairman Kim or the military complex that he is symbiotically attached to.

    At least the Congress has not gone to the point of imposing sanctions on either the public or the line soldiers in the military….yet…

  3. OzarkHillbilly (used to be tom p) says:

    Here’s to the Ron Paul’s of the world…. I will disagree with them at least half of the time, but I never have to wonder where they stand (it is where they sit)(hattip-JJ)

  4. OzarkHillbilly (used to be tom p) says:

    As to what Boehner’s gonna do? Cut off the money to the troops? He could…. but I would love to see the GOP run on that line.

  5. Anderson says:

    Seems to me Obama should grab at this with both hands. “My fellow Americans, I believe that the U.S. should participate in protecting the Libyan people from Moammar Qaddafi, but the Republican-controlled House has spoken, and I will obey the Constitution.”

    Then, if Libya blows over, who remembers? And if the next week or two features televised massacres by triumphant Qaddafi forces, then Obama has a theme for 2012. Qaddafi has already sent a thank-you note to the House majority.

    .. But here I am, attributing political skills to Obama.

  6. CB says:

    Then, if Libya blows over, who remembers? And if the next week or two features televised massacres by triumphant Qaddafi forces, then Obama has a theme for 2012. Qaddafi has already sent a thank-you note to the House majority.

    dammit, i hate politics.

  7. michael reynolds says:


    I’ve been following this intervention pretty closely, and there won’t be any triumphant Gaddafi. It’s no longer if he goes, it’s when.

    And the cost in American lives so far? Zero.

  8. Chad S says:

    What I don’t get is that the US is so minimally involved in this(logistics+letting them use a US base, etc) and people/pundits are acting like we’re doing the bombing. We’re not.

  9. Pete says:

    Michael, you almost sound neo-con.

  10. michael reynolds says:


    I almost am.

  11. Or what, he’ll give him another week?

  12. Herb says:

    While it’s nice to see Republicans in Congress (finally!) question the President’s warfighting powers, it’s a bit strange to see them become the “Just leave Quadafi alone” brigade.

  13. ponce says:

    I almost am.

    Sounds like Michael’s a believer in the neocon affirmation “Bomb ’em ’til they love us.”

  14. Rob in CT says:

    I, not being a neocon (or “liberal interventionist” which is the same thing except with warm fuzzies about coalitions), have been against this intervention from the beginning.

    Sure, the vast majority of the GOP would be totally hypocritical to be anti-intervention here (the Pauls, I’m sure, were against from the start instead of beating the war drum claiming POTUS was weak b/c he took too long to go in), but I’m all for reigning in the President on this.

    Ergo… go Boehner. Ick.

  15. Anderson says:

    I’ve been following this intervention pretty closely, and there won’t be any triumphant Gaddafi. It’s no longer if he goes, it’s when.

    I hope that’s the case.

  16. Wayne says:

    Yes if McCain was President we would likely be in Libya. The difference is he would have follow the Constitution and gone to Congress long before now. He would more likely have a much more comprehensive plan. The mission over there has gone way over enforcing a no fly zone.

    It is amazing how many are bashing the GOP house for wanting to follow the law. It is like bashing an officer for enforcing a law against having parades without a permit. People making comments like “they are against parades” or “they are just doing it because they don’t like the organizer”.

  17. Wayne

    The GOP didn’t much care about the War Powers Act during the Reagan Administration, but hey now that the President is a Democrat it matters?

    Also, following the Constitution doesn’t count for much if we’re still involved in a pointless and immoral war. The problem with Libya isn’t how we went in there, its the fact that we are involved at all.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    I wasn’t enthusiastic about going into Libya. It didn’t seem like something to get worked up about one way or the other. The risk seemed low (it’s actually been much lower than I thought) but the reward also wasn’t anything to get terribly excited about. It seemed, in short, much like any number of small colonial expeditions the British might have carried out without much controversy back in the days of empire.

    Some good has been done: NATO, and especially the French and Brits, have a much clearer appreciation of their dependence on the US, and I think a clearer idea of what it means to take the lead militarily.

    Something very big is going on here, but it’s not specifically to do with Libya — the western powers are developing and proving a capability for no-risk war. I believe the allied casualty count stands at zero. (I may have missed some small number of allied casualties.) This is a dramatic change. We’ve always had to put men at risk to fight wars. We are reaching the point where we can topple a regime without losing a single life.

    We’ve gone from vast numbers of draftees (Civil War, WW2, Vietnam,) to a professional force, (Iraq 1 and 2, Afghanistan) and are now moving to fighting with a robot force. Cruise missiles, Predator/Hellfire, are all 15-20 year old technology (albeit with upgrades.) 15 years from now they’ll be primitive and we’ll have truly push-button wars.

    The stakes are different. We need to think through what that means in terms of policy and law.

  19. mantis says:

    What’s that you say, Mr. Orange?

    House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned President Barack Obama on Tuesday that he’ll be in violation of the War Powers Act if he doesn’t seek authorization for the Libya mission this week, but Boehner has questioned the law’s constitutionality in the past and even voted to repeal the law back in 1995.

    “The president of the United States is, and should remain, the chief architect of America’s foreign policy and the commander-in-chief of our armed forces,” Boehner said in a 1999 press release when Congress was debating U.S. involvement in the Balkans. “Invoking the constitutionally-suspect War Powers Act may halt our nation s snowballing involvement in the Kosovo quagmire. But it’s also likely to tie the hands of future presidents … A strong presidency is a key pillar of the American system of government — the same system of government our military men and women are prepared to give their lives to defend. Just as good intentions alone are not enough to justify sending American troops into harm’s way, good intentions alone are not enough to justify tampering with the underpinnings of American democracy.”

    In addition to his pretty clear remarks, Boehner voted in 1995 to repeal the War Powers Act and replace it with a weaker mandate for Congress to have a role in the war-making process.

    So what changed? Oh yeah, the wind.

  20. gVOR08 says:

    So Boner and the rest of the Republicans are faced with a choice. They can can continue to support war, which means supporting Obama. Or they can oppose Obama, which means opposing a war. Has Boner’s head exploded yet?

    He seems to have said to Obama – justify the war, or I’ll…what exactly? Blow the GOP’s faux macho image by introducing a motion to cut off funds? You know, one of these days Boner’s going to threaten to jump off a cliff unless he gets what he wants, and Obama’s going to let him.

    (He gets promoted to Boehner when he learns to say “Democrat-IC Party.)

  21. Renee Lester says:

    People seem to be under the impression that 0 lives have been lost in Libya, well you are wrong. Two special forces officers have been killed, it’s just being kept under raps for now. I thought G.W’s death count was bad, just wait !!!!!! Now not only are we in Iraq (promised to withdraw), Afganistan (promised to withdraw), libya, and now yemen is added to the list. If we thought Bush was a power hungry war monger, we did not know the real Obama yet. We still do not know who those radicals are that we are helping. By the way It was leaked that they are getting ready to send ground troops into Liby by October or November of this year.