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Posted at 03:41 PM ET, 05/19/2011

Libya conflict sparks War Powers debate in Senate

A group of senators is pressing President Obama on whether he plans to comply with the War Powers Act as the U.S. approaches the 60-day mark in its involvement in the conflict in Libya.

The 1973 law states that any U.S. military action that had not been previously authorized by Congress must be halted 60 days after the president first notifies lawmakers of it. The president has not sought congressional authorization for the Libyan intervention, which he has been careful not to describe as a war.

On Wednesday, Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Mike Lee (Utah), Jim DeMint (S.C.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Tom Coburn (Okla.) and John Cornyn (Texas) sent a letter to Obama asking whether the president will terminate the U.S. mission in Libya by Friday, which marks 60 days since Obama first reported to Congress on the mission.

“As recently as last week your Administration indicated use of the United States Armed Forces will continue indefinitely,” the senators wrote. “Therefore, we are writing to ask whether you intend to comply with the requirements of the War Powers Resolution. We await your response.”

U.S. forces first engaged in the military operation in Libya on March 19. Two days later, on March 21, Obama submitted his report to Congress on Libya. At the time, some lawmakers on both the left and the right criticized Obama for not first seeking authorization from Congress before committing U.S. forces to the conflict; the White House has defended its actions, arguing that it has consulted regularly with lawmakers on the mission.

As the group of Republican senators pushed the White House for answers on Libya, Obama also came under criticism from his left flank on Thursday after his speech on U.S. policy in the Middle East and North Africa.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), an outspoken anti-war liberal, renewed his criticism of Obama in a statement after Thursday’s speech, arguing that the president “violated the Constitution by pursuing war against Libya without a Constitutionally-required authorization for the use of military force or declaration of war from Congress.”

“His actions, and now his policy recitations, set the stage for more interventions, presumably in Syria and Iran,” Kucinich said. “His recounting of the reasons for U.S. intervention in Libya is at odds with the facts. There was no clear evidence of an impending massacre in Libya. There was menacing rhetoric and a violent government put-down of an armed insurrection which may have been joined by some with legitimate non-violent aspirations. No one can justify the actions of any parties to this conflict. In any case, discretion requires leaders to move with the utmost care in developing military responses to rhetoric and similar care to intervention in a civil war.”

With the House out of session and the Senate wrapping up its weekly business Thursday afternoon, however, it wasn’t likely that Congress would act on any Libya-related legislation ahead of Friday’s 60-day deadline.

In fact, most senators speaking on the floor Thursday were consumed with the number 750, not 60; that’s the number of days that have passed since Senate Democrats last passed a budget resolution.

Below is the text of the Republican senators’ letter to Obama.

May 18, 2011

The Honorable Barack Obama

President of the United States

The White House

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

On March 19, 2011, you introduced the United States Armed Forces into hostilities in Libya. That action was taken without regard to or compliance with the requirement of section 2(c) of the War Powers Resolution that the United States Armed Forces only be introduced into hostilities or situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances “pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”.

Since that time, numerous aircraft and ships have been deployed and engaged in hostilities and remain in situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reports that operations in Libya have cost the Pentagon at least $750 million.

Section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. § 1544(b)) mandates that:

Within sixty calendar days after a report is submitted or is required to be submitted pursuant to section 4(a)(1), whichever is earlier, the President shall terminate any use of United States Armed Forces with respect to which such report was submitted (or required to be submitted), unless the Congress (1) has declared war or has enacted a specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces, (2) has extended by law such sixty-day period, or (3) is physically unable to meet as a result of an armed attack upon the United States. Such sixty-day period shall be extended for not more than an additional thirty days if the President determines and certifies to the Congress in writing that unavoidable military necessity respecting the safety of United States Armed Forces requires the continued use of such armed forces in the course of bringing about a prompt removal of such forces.

Congress received your report pursuant to section 4(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution on March 21, 2011. Friday is the final day of the statutory sixty-day period for you to terminate the use of the United States Armed Forces in Libya under the War Powers Resolution. As recently as last week your Administration indicated use of the United States Armed Forces will continue indefinitely. Therefore, we are writing to ask whether you intend to comply with the requirements of the War Powers Resolution. We await your response.

By  |  03:41 PM ET, 05/19/2011

 
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