President Obama and senior administration officials held an hour-long meeting and conference call with more than 20 top members of Congress on Friday in which they updated lawmakers on the crisis in Libya and fielded questions on the extent of U.S. involvement in the operation, which is in its seventh day.
The Situation Room briefing came one week after the White House first briefed members of Congress on the U.S. intervention in Libya and five days before senior administration officials are set to hold a bipartisan, classified meeting with lawmakers at the Capitol.
In addition to Obama, the administration officials attending the meeting in person were National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Adm. Mike Mullen, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, according to the White House. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended via phone, and Gen. Carter Ham, the U.S. commander leading the operation, appeared via videoconference.
In a statement after the briefing, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who this week penned a letter to Obama about the crisis, said through a spokesman that he is still seeking answers from the administration on Libya.
“The speaker appreciates the update today, but still believes much more needs to be done by the administration to provide clarity, particularly to the American people, on the military objective in Libya, America’s role, and how it is consistent with U.S. policy goals,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.
Another leading Republican, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), said in a statement issued by his office after the briefing that he “supports the decision to intervene militarily in Libya, but he remains concerned that our actions at present may not be sufficient to avoid a stalemate and accomplish the U.S. objective of forcing Gaddafi to leave power.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who earlier this week issued a strong defense of the administration on a conference call with reporters, reiterated his support Friday.
“The president gave a very clear, very strong presentation,” Levin said in a statement. “I continue to believe there will be strong bipartisan support in Congress. He clearly answered the questions about the mission and planned schedule for the handoff of the principal responsibility for population protection to NATO and Arab countries.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) statement after Friday’s briefing was one of support, although – like her statement earlier this week – it was more cautious than that of Levin.
“This afternoon, the President again briefed the leaders about the status of our limited involvement in Libya and the transfer of command to NATO,” Pelosi said. “According to the President, the Secretary of State, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Carter Ham, the intervention has saved civilian lives. As NATO takes control of operations in Libya, Members of Congress will receive a classified briefing from the Administration on these transition plans and our future role when Congress reconvenes next week.”
According to the White House, Obama and the administration officials “provided an update on accomplishments to date, including the full transfer of enforcement of the no-fly zone to NATO, and yesterday’s unanimous agreement among NATO allies to direct planning for NATO to assume command and control of the civilian protection component in accordance with UNSCR 1973.” Obama took questions from several members after the briefing.
A GOP aide who was briefed on the call said Obama emphasized that America’s involvement in Libya will be ratcheting down and that other partners will be stepping up to do more.
Obama also reiterated that the U.S. will fulfill the humanitarian goals set out in the UN resolution, but that it remains unclear how long NATO will have to stay in place to support the effort, the aide said.
The lawmakers attending either in person or via phone were Boehner, Pelosi, McCain, Levin, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who was in Nevada at the time of the call, was unable to participate because of a scheduling conflict and would receive an update later, according to a spokesman.