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Obama authority to act under challenge

The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 12:16 PM

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's authority to order the military action against Libya without congressional approval is being challenged - and congressional critics are using candidate Obama's words against him.

In a Dec. 20, 2007 interview with the Boston Globe, Obama was asked about the president's constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking authorization from Congress.

"The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation," Obama said four years ago. "As commander in chief, the president does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the president would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent."

In a letter to Congress on Monday, Obama said he authorized the involvement of the U.S. military as part of a "multilateral response authorized under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973."

"I have directed these actions, which are in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive," he said.

Under the War Powers Resolution, the president has the authority to launch U.S. actions for 60-90 days before seeking an authorization from Congress. However, presidents haven't always sought congressional approval, creating tensions between the two branches of government over the authority.

On March 1, the Senate unanimously approved a non-binding resolution that urged the U.N. Security Council "to take such further action as may be necessary to protect civilians in Libya from attack, including the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over Libyan territory." The House has taken no action on a similar measure.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday the military strikes against Libya were necessary because there would have been "a horrible blood bath" under besieged strongman Moammar Gadhafi without international intervention. He spoke in an interview with CBS's "The Early Show."

But Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, remained opposed to the operation and said he would offer an amendment to the next budget resolution that would prohibit taxpayer dollars from being used to fund U.S. military operations in Libya.

"We have already spent trillions of dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which descended into unwinnable quagmires," Kucinich wrote his colleagues. "Now, the president is plunging the United States into yet another war we cannot afford."

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Monday, "The United States does not have a King's army. President Obama's unilateral choice to use U.S. military force in Libya is an affront to our Constitution."

© 2011 The Associated Press