Neither happened. Instead, in a letter sent Friday night to congressional leaders, Obama expressed support for a proposed resolution that “would confirm that Congress supports the U.S. mission in Libya.”
The president also described U.S. military efforts as “supporting” and “more limited” than in the campaign’s early days. He said they include providing logistical and intelligence help to the NATO-led operation, as well as supplying aircraft and unmanned drones to attack Libyan targets.
Obama did not, however, explicitly say whether he thinks the War Powers Resolution applies to the Libyan operation. That act makes no specific exception for limited or supporting action: It applies to any instance in which military forces are “introduced into hostilities,” or sent into foreign territory or airspace while equipped for combat.
Congressional leaders have showed little desire to challenge Obama on the deadline. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton also had not obtained congressional approval for overseas actions, with little repercussion from Capitol Hill.
After Obama sent his letter, Jon Summers, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), said only that “Senator Reid has received the letter and is giving it his full consideration.”
An aide to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said the lawmaker had not seen the draft resolution that Obama mentioned. “No decisions will be made until such a review takes place and we discuss the matter with our members,” Michael Steel wrote in an e-mail.
But the resolution has not been formally introduced, said a spokeswoman for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of a group of senators whom Obama cited as its sponsors. Brooke Buchanan said the current draft expresses general support for the operation in Libya and contains no mention of the War Powers Resolution.
Legal scholars say that congressional inaction could severely weaken a law intended to take back legislative control of U.S. warmaking.
“The fundamental point is: Before we engage in a serious military endeavor, both branches should give their consent,” said Bruce Ackerman, a Yale University law professor. If Obama ignores the law, he said, “we go back to the status quo before 1973. I mean, Richard Nixon will have won.”
The War Powers Resolution was an attempt to settle a dispute as old as the Constitution. That document says only Congress has the power to declare war but the president is commander in chief of the military.
Presidents construed that to mean they could send U.S. forces into combat without congressional approval. In many cases, the reasoning was that the fights would be too small, or too short, to be considered a “war.”