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Posted at 04:30 PM ET, 03/24/2011

West Wing briefing: White House defends consultation with Congress on Libya

Updated, 4:30 p.m.

The White House on Thursday again defended itself against bipartisan criticism that members of Congress were not appropriately consulted before President Obama authorized the use of U.S. forces to protect civilians in Libya.

At a press briefing Thursday afternoon, Press Secretary Jay Carney at a press briefing listed a number of meetings on Libya over the last month between congressional leaders and administration officials, including the president himself, although most came well before Obama’s decision to deploy U.S. planes to enforce a no-fly zone in the North African nation.

Carney said Obama could have not waited last week for further consultation, as Congress was headed for a recess while Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi’s forces continued to attack opposition to his rule there.

Meanwhile, the office of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) announced Thursday afternoon that a group of top administration officials will brief members of Congress from both parties on Libya in a closed-door session next Wednesday. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates are among those who will take questions from members of Congress.

“In this case, had we waited for Congress to get back, there’s no question I think in anybody’s mind, in our military, in our foreign policy establishment, national security establishment or in the minds of reporters who covered it on the ground, Gaffadi’s forces would have controlled Benghazi and there would have been a great deal of people killed in the process,” Carney said.

Carney reiterated that the administration expected international forces to soon take over the enforcement of the no-fly zone. He said that U.S. forces would shift to a supporting role “in days, not weeks.”

“The United States will have a role but it will not be a lead role,” he said.

Obama, who arrived home Wednesday evening from a five-trip to Central and South America, faced criticism while he was abroad about the military action in Libya that has only increased since he returned to Washington.

The president stayed largely out of public view early Thursday. Aides said he would meet during the day with national security aides as well as Vice-President Biden. He cannot easily address Congress’ concerns about consultation immediately, since the House and Senate are in recess and many members are back in their home states.

Obama already has won broad international backing in his push against Gaddafi. But in Washington, members of both parties, particularly in the House of Representatives, have sharply criticized the mission.

Some have argued Obama lacks a clear exit strategy or rationale, while others say the president should have asked for a specific authorization of war from Congress.

“I respect your authority as Commander-in-Chief and support our troops as they carry out their mission. But I and many other members of the House of Representatives are troubled that U.S. military resources were committed to war without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress, and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what America’s role is in achieving that mission,” Boehner wrote in a letter to Obama Wednesday that was also released publicly almost immediately after the president’s plane landed from El Salvador on Wednesday night.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a top House Democrat, said in an interview on MSBNC early Thursday, “I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence that they sufficiently consulted the Congress.”

White House officials say the military action is within Obama’s authority as president without a formal declaration of war. They say they have repeatedly reached out to congressional leaders, many of whom Obama met with last Friday before he left for Latin America.

“We’ve consulted with Congress throughout this process, again, consulted before we took military action, and continue to brief Congress and, again, welcome congressional support and believe it’s very important to have a very close and ongoing dialogue with Congress about what we’re doing in Libya,” said Ben Rhodes, a top Obama foreign policy adviser.

But liberals in the House such as Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), congressional GOP leaders like Boehner and previous Obama allies on foreign policy issues, including Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind), have all raised concerns about the president’s Libya policy.

By Perry Bacon Jr.  |  04:30 PM ET, 03/24/2011

 
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