White House’s ‘Libya Isn’t A War-War’ Defense Not Going Over Well In Congress
The White House's assertion that Libya isn't covered by the War Powers Act isn't being accepted on Capitol Hill.
As I noted yesterday, the Obama Administration responded to Congressional demands for more information regarding the mission in Libya by saying that the War Powers Act doesn’t apply because American forces are not engaged in hostilities in or near Libya. Not surprisingly, that explanation has not gone over well among Congressional critics of the Administration’s policy:
President Obama’s assertion that he does not need congressional authorization for the military operation in Libya met with criticism on Capitol Hill Thursday, as some lawmakers said Obama’s logic defied both the dictionary and the law.
“It just doesn’t pass the straight-face test in my view,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) in a morning news conference at the Capitol.
“You’re flying over Libya, participating in bombing Libya. It seems hostile to me,” said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), in a telephone interview. “If any other country were flying over the United States for the purpose of bombing our territory, we would regard that as being introduced into hostilities.”
Obama’s argument was rejected by Boehner, who previously had appeared intent on avoiding a confrontation over Libya until a number of Republicans and Democrats turned against the operation this month.
“The White House says there are no hostilities taking place, yet we’ve got drone attacks underway. We’re spending $10 million a day as part of an effort to drop bombs on Gaddafi’s compounds,” Boehner said.
Boehner said he still hoped to receive further clarification from the White House about the U.S.’s goals in Libya. Asked what the House is prepared to do in the case that it does not receive a satisfactory answer from Obama, Boehner declined to go into detail, saying only that “the House has options.”
In the Senate Thursday, even a major supporter of the Libya campaign made a speech criticizing Obama. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called the administration’s argument “a confusing breach of common sense.”
“I am no legal scholar, but I find it hard to swallow that U.S. armed forces dropping bombs and killing enemy personnel in a foreign country doesn’t amount to a state of hostilities,” McCain said on the Senate floor. “Unfortunately, this only adds more confusion to our already confusing policy in Libya
In a separate interview today, Speaker Boehner went so far as to say that the House may consider cutting off funding for the Libya mission if the Administration does not further clarify its position:
House Speaker John Boehner threatened to cut off funding for U.S. involvement in Libya if he’s not satisfied with further White House explanation about the NATO-led military campaign.
The Ohio Republican said he is waiting for the White House Office of Legal Counsel to report by Friday whether it agrees with Obama’s position released yesterday that his actions are legal. If the office does not agree, Boehner said the House has legislative options.
“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,” Boehner said.
But “the ultimate option is…the Congress has the power of the purse. And certainly that is an option as well,” Boehner said.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor seemed to echo Boehner when he hinted in a floor speech that the House may take up such a defunding bill as early as next week depending on what steps the Administration takes next. The White House, meanwhile, has basically said it doesn’t intend to respond any further to the House:
White House press secretary Jay Carney said that the president “absolutely respects” Congress’s desire to be consulted on Libya, but after sending a 32-page report to Congress outlining the White House’s reasons for believing that Obama has acted consistently with the War Powers Resolution, Carney said that should suffice.
“I don’t anticipate further elucidation of our legal reasoning because I think it was quite clear,” Carney said.
So, it would seem the ball is not back in Congress’s court and we may be headed for some kind of real confrontation between the House and the White House over the mission in Libya. Frankly, it’s already gone further than I expected. Usually, Congress just rolls over and plays dead on these sorts of things but it’s clear that the hyperpartisan atmosphere in Washington, combined with the fact that the Libya mission remains decidedly unpopular, have emboldened Boehner and others to actually take a stand here.
If that’s the case, I’m glad to see it. It’s been far too long, since the passage of the War Powers Act really, that Congress has acted in any decisive manner to try to reign in the Executive Branch’s power grabs in the war making department. Regardless of the outcome of this particular policy dispute, the fact that Congress, or at least part of it, is acting with some backbone here is a welcome sight, especially in light of the specious reasoning that the Administration uses in its report.
Conor Freidersdorf demolishes the White House position quite thoroughly:
President Obama’s argument for why he is in compliance with the War Powers Resolution is mostly made up of irrelevant assertions. It doesn’t matter that our Predator drone strikes are limited, or that we’re mostly supporting the armed forces of other nations, or acting as part of an international body, or that the war was launched to prevent a humanitarian disaster. Nor does it matter that “U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces.” None of those things gets Obama out of the requirements of this legislation, nor is there any hint in its language that they would — in fact, insofar as it’s specified, various provisions are triggered by merely being in another country’s airspace or accompanying forces from other nations while they are engaged in hostilities. The notion that we’re engaged in a special kind of post-NATO-handover “hostilities” not covered by the War Powers Resolution is unsupported, and, even ignoring that, President Obama indisputably violated at least one other provision of the legislation before the NATO handover
Moreover, as Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) noted two weeks ago:
Article I, section 9 of the Constitution, in part, reads, “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law; and a regular statement and account of the receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.”… What I’m wondering is: Where is the money to pay for the Libyan operation coming from? What account is it coming from? Is it coming out of personnel costs–soldiers’ pay? Is it coming out of medical care? Is it coming out of the training for our troops? What accounts are being used?
An entirely legitimate question, it would seem, and the idea that the President can engage in hostilities with a nation that has not attacked us and poses no threat to our interests, and then fund the military war without Congressional appropriations seems to defy any reasonable reading of the Constitution. It would have been very simple for the White House to seek authorization for the Libyan action, and it probably would’ve been approved too. Instead, the President chose not to do that any rely upon a United Nations resolution and a specious legal argument to argue that he doesn’t need to get Congressional permission to put American troops in harms way. It’s a dangerous precedent, and it’s good to see Congress at least giving some push back to this latest Executive power grab.