Lawmakers push back against White House's defense of involvement in Libya

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner addresses the Economic Club of New York in New York, Monday, May 9, 2011. The Economic Club of New York is a non-political, non-partisan and non-profit organization with members from the executive levels of business, industry and finance. It's mission is to promote the study and discussion of social, economic, and political questions.
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Republican lawmakers are pushing back against the White House's recent 32-page defense of its military operations in Libya -- and say they will subject the administration's actions to intense scrutiny in coming weeks.

House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Thursday morning that the White House's argument didn't "pass the straight face test," and warned that lawmakers still had "the power of the purse."

The White House on Wednesday sent a lengthy report to Congress detailing U.S. military operations in Libya so far, and ultimately concluding that American actions there were in accordance with the War Powers Resolution.

The letter came a day after Boehner warned Mr. Obama, via letter, that the administration might soon be in violation of the resolution, which prohibits forces from serving in armed conflict for more than 60 days - or, with an extension, 90 - without congressional approval or having declared war.

The White House report countered by positing that "U.S. operations [in Libya] do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors." As such, it contended, the War Powers Resolution had not been violated.

"The President is of the view that the current U.S. military operations in Libya are consistent with the War Powers Resolution and do not under that law require further congressional authorization," the report says.

In a statement Wednesday night, a Boehner spokesman promised that the speaker would closely examine what he described as the White House's "creative arguments."

"The creative arguments made by the White House raise a number of questions that must be further explored," said Brendan Buck.

Still, the Boehner spokesman argued, regardless of whether or not the president's argument holds up, he has neglected his responsibility to keep Congress adequately informed with regard to U.S. actions in Libya.

"The Commander-in-Chief has a responsibility to articulate how U.S. military action is vital to our national security and consistent with American policy goals," Buck said. "With Libya, the President has fallen short on this obligation. We will review the information that was provided today, but hope and expect that this will serve as the beginning, not the end, of the President's explanation for continued American operations in Libya."

Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., the chairman of the House Constitution Caucus, argued that a mere "progress report" on the situation was insufficient - and demanded an up-or-down vote on the matter in Congress.

"At long last, President Obama has decided to update Congress and the American people on his unauthorized use of military force in Libya," he said in a statement, according to the Washington Post. "Unfortunately, a progress report from the White House is no substitute for congressional authorization. If the president thinks it's in the best interest of the United States to commit U.S. military personnel to the conflict in Libya he needs to come to Congress for an up or down vote. Otherwise, he is in violation of Constitution and the oath he took to preserve, protect and defend it."

And while few Democratic lawmakers have as yet responded on the White House letter, at least one - Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who earlier on Wednesday led a group of ten bipartisan lawmakers in filing suit against Mr. Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Libya - is taking the Obama administration to task on the arguments of the report itself.

Citing data from The Guardian newspaper in London, Kucinich noted that the U.S. had so far provided upwards of a billion dollars worth of resources toward the conflict - and contended that the American people had a right to a say in the use of their tax dollars.

"According to an analysis by the Guardian UK, more than one month after NATO took over operations, the U.S. had thus far provided 93% of the cruise missiles, 66% of the personnel, 50% of the ships and 50% of the planes for the international operations in Libya at a cost to the American taxpayers now rapidly approaching a billion dollars," he said.

"The White House claim that the war is not war is not a legal argument. It is a political argument," he continued. "The legal argument will hopefully be addressed by the courts. Today, I, along with 9 of my colleagues, filed suit in federal court challenging the rationale that has brought our nation to an Orwellian war that is not war."