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White House Defends Legality of Libya Mission

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (file photo)
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (file photo)
Kent Klein

The Obama administration is defending the legality of its military mission in Libya.  White House officials have sent lawmakers a report saying Congress does not need to approve the continuing operation in Libya because U.S. troops there are in a support role.

The administration has sent a 30+ page report to Congress.  It rebuts objections from some lawmakers in both parties that continued U.S. involvement in the Libya mission, without a vote in Congress, violates the War Powers Resolution.

The act, passed in 1973, says military action is not expected to last more than 60 days unless Congress has either declared war, authorized the use of force, or extended the deadline.  The resolution gives the president another 30 days to withdraw forces.

President Barack Obama notified Congress about the use of force on March 20, and some lawmakers say his legal authorization to have forces in Libya expires on June 20.

Shortly before the report was released Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters it would answer lawmakers’ questions about the administration’s actions.

“It will also include within it a legal analysis that explains our position that the president has acted in a manner that is consistent with the War Powers Resolution," said Carney. "And we believe that the support for the overall mission, the support for the goal of protecting Libyan civilians and holding Colonel Gadhafi accountable will continue.”

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Republican John Boehner, has warned that President Obama will be violating the resolution if the president does not seek authorization for the Libya mission from Congress this week.

While the administration has held numerous meetings with lawmakers since the operation began,  Speaker Boehner has said those do not satisfy the letter or spirit of the law.

Boehner had called in 1995 for the repeal of the War Powers Resolution.

Without mentioning Boehner by name, White House spokesman Jay Carney said some lawmakers who earlier called for the act to be overturned are now demanding that the president obey it.

“The material that has been written and testified to about this could fill this room, over the years," he said. "I would point out that there have been some expressions on the [Capitol] Hill about this issue that are inconsistent with expressions in the past about the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution, and I think that, if nothing else, testifies to the fact that there is a lot of debate about it.”

Mr. Obama’s government also faces a lawsuit filed by 10 bipartisan members of Congress, led by anti-war Democrat Dennis Kucinich, which asserts that the administration does not have Congress' approval to continue the Libya mission.

A senior administration official said Wednesday the White House is not debating the resolution’s constitutionality.

But the official said the United States is not engaged in what the law would consider hostilities.  He said there has been no exchange of fire with hostile forces, no American troops on the ground, and little chance that the fighting will escalate.  

Carney and other officials have said NATO and U.S. troops have successfully protected civilians from attacks by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s government forces, fulfilling United Nations Security Council resolution 1973.

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