Obama: "Fuss" over Libya action is just "politics"

President Barack Obama gestures during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 29, 2011.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Updated at 1:20 p.m. ET

President Obama today defended U.S. engagement in Libya, dismissing congressional debate -- which has split both Democrats and Republicans -- over whether involvement in the war violates the War Powers Act.

"A lot of this fuss is politics," Mr. Obama said at a press conference at the White House.

U.S. engagement in Libya has gone on for three months, even though Mr. Obama never sought congressional authorization for the operations. The 1973 War Powers Resolution mandates that military forces must be withdrawn from battle within 90 days without congressional approval.

Mr. Obama said today his decisions have not violated the resolution because "we have engaged in a limited operation."

"I said there would be no troops on the ground. I said we would not be carrying the lion's share of the operation, but as members of NATO we would be supportive of it because it's in our national security interest and it's the right thing to do," Mr. Obama said. "We have done exactly what I said we would do."

President Barack Obama gestures during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 29, 2011.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

The operation is "limited in time and scope," Mr. Obama said, and has been carried out in "exemplary fashion."

"There's no risk of additional escalation," he added.

Congress has held a series of votes over whether to authorize action in Libya, or to show opposition to the mission by cutting off funding. Mr. Obama said today that Washington should be unified in its mission against Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi.

"We have engaged in a limited operation to help a lot of people against one of the worst tryants in the world... and this suddenly becomes the cause celebre for some members of Congress? C'mon," Mr. Obama said.

While the U.N. mission is specifically focused on protecting the Libyan people, Mr. Obama has said repeatedly that Qaddafi must step down from power.

As a consequence of the mission's success so far, Mr. Obama said, "a guy who was a state sponsor of terrorist operations against the United States of America is pinned down, and the noose is tightening around him."

While Mr. Obama said Qaddafi must step down, he added that it will be up to the Libyan people to arrive at a political settlement.

As to whether the U.S. and its allies in the mission would accept a resolution involving Qaddafi, Mr. Obama said, "I would accept him stepping down so that he is not directing armed forces against Libyan people. He needs to step down. He needs to go."

As the operations in Libya continue, a CBS News poll earlier this month showed that public opinion has turned against the mission: six in 10 Americans do not think the United States should be involved in the Libyan conflict. Mr. Obama said today that the high-profile support Sens. John McCain and John Kerry are putting behind the mission should reassure people.

"When you have the former nominee for president, John McCain, and the former nominee for president on the Democratic side, John Kerry, coming together, that should tell the American people this is important," he said.