The report came on the same day a bipartisan group of lawmakers filed suit in federal court against Obama seeking to end the U.S. participation in Libya, pushing what has been a slow-moving confrontation over the power of the president at a time of war toward the center of the political debate.
What began as a complaint from those mostly on the partisan fringes of Congress has attracted more lawmakers with each passing week of the Libya operation, which the Obama administration has said is making significant progress in forcing Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi from power. In issuing the report, the White House relented in joining a debate it has largely tried to ignore.
The demand that Obama secure congressional approval to continue the Libya operation has brought together House Republicans and liberal Democrats. Some lawmakers have raised the legal question in the hope of stopping the war on principle, while others view the argument as a useful partisan critique of the president’s leadership.
The report is unlikely, as a result, to appease all congressional leaders concerned about Obama’s strategy in Libya and the rising cost of the war, one of three the administration is fighting at a time of severe fiscal strain at home.
The United States has spent $715.9 million in Libya, the vast majority of it on military operations, according to the report. The administration estimates that the cost will rise to $1.1 billion through September, although it does not plan to request additional funds from Congress to pay for the mission.
The report also says that “there has not been a significant operational impact on United States activities in Iraq and Afghanistan” as a result of the Libya campaign.
On the legal question, which the report spends a single paragraph addressing, the administration states that Obama believes he has participated in the Libya operation in a way “consistent” with the War Powers Resolution, passed by Congress in 1973 in an attempt to constrain a president’s war-making capabilities after the undeclared conflicts in Vietnam and Korea.
The report says that “because U.S. military operations [in Libya] are distinct from the kind of ‘hostilities’ contemplated by the resolution,” the deadlines for congressional approval or force withdrawal do not apply.
“We’re not engaged in sustained fighting. There’s been no exchange of fire with hostile forces. We don’t have troops on the ground. We don’t risk casualties to those troops,” said one senior administration official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity during a conference call arranged by the White House. “None of the factors, frankly, speaking more broadly, has risked the sort of escalation that Congress was concerned would impinge on its war-making power.”