As military operations in Libya continue, lawmakers in both chambers are pressing for votes on intervention. Josh Rogin reports that Democratic Senators have said a vote could come as early as next week, and Amanda Terkel writes that several House Republicans are organizing an effort to prohibit the president from using force in Libya.
There's a great deal of bipartisan precedent, both for presidents authorizing military action on their own and members of the other party contending that such action is unconstitutional. In a letter to the president yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R) took a few shots at the president for consulting with “foreign entities such as the United Nations and the Arab League," while raising some relevant questions about the goal of the mission and the extent of U.S. commitment. Yesterday Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said that the administration had consulted with Congress prior to intervening.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Boehner wrote that, "I respect your authority as Commander-in-Chief and support our troops as they carry out their mission." That's really just another way of saying that he thinks the president has the constitutional authority to intervene. That concession, combined with Boehner's substantive questions about the mission and a cheap shot or two, reflects the fine line he has to walk politically. The Republican base strongly dislikes the president, but it is also hawkish and supports the decision to intervene in Libya.
Moreover, while Obama and Biden could gain politically by telling anti-war audiences years ago that they didn't believe the president had the power to authorize military action without congressional authorization, Republicans aren't anti-war, and so there's more of an explicit political danger in undermining the ability of the president to act unilaterally.
It may also be in Boehner's political interests to delay a vote. The administration is clearly trying to hand off administration of the no-fly zone to one of its coalition partners, it has continued to define the mission as "limited," even as it escalates, and the Libyan rebels may be too few to be able to truly capitalize on the assist from the outside. Giving explicit congressional authorization now will give Congress ownership of the mission, which means that they won't be able to simply blame the White House if the whole thing turns out to require more of a U.S. commitment than was initially assumed.
Unfortunately, less than a decade since the U.S. invaded Iraq, we don't seem to have learned how easily that can happen.