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US Legislators Debate Libya Intervention

U.S. Air Force KC-135R air fueling tankers are seen at the Souda military base, on the Greek island of Crete, March 22, 2011

U.S. military intervention in Libya has sparked widely divergent congressional reaction. Some legislators lament U.S. actions may be too little too late to force leader Moammar Gadhafi from power, while others object that the Obama administration acted without Congress’ consent.

For Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the question is not whether President Barack Obama should have ordered U.S. intervention in Libya. Instead, he asks: what took him so long to pull the trigger?

"We have been overly cautious, unnervingly indecisive,” Graham said. “This thing [the Libyan situation] melted down. I wish he [President Obama] had acted sooner."

Graham spoke on the Fox News Sunday television program. His sentiments are echoed by Senator John McCain. Appearing on NBC’s Today show Tuesday, the Arizona Republican urged an expansion of U.S. efforts beyond establishing a no-fly zone over Libya.

"We are going to have to facilitate some arms and equipment and training to the [Libyan] rebels over time,” said McCain. “A stalemate is a very bad outcome here. American policy is that Gadhafi must go."

Not so, according to Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

"The goal of this mission is not to get rid of Gadhafi,” Kerry said. “That is not what the United Nations licensed, and I would not call it going to war. This is a very limited operation that is geared to save lives, and it was specifically targeted on a humanitarian basis."

Kerry spoke on NBC’s Meet the Press program, as did fellow-Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan. Levin was asked why the United States is intervening in Libya, but not in Bahrain and other Arab states where anti-government protesters face repression.

"This is a unique situation where the entire world has come together, including the Arab world, and has said the Gadhafi slaughter needs to stop,” said Levin. “It is not just we, the United States, just the opposite."

But some members of Congress are objecting to the Obama administration’s actions. Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas complained that, in failing to seek legislative approval for intervention in Libya, the president is treating Congress as what he termed "a potted plant".

Ohio Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich issued a statement arguing the no-fly zone is an act of war that requires congressional authorization. In interviews with U.S. news outlets, Kucinich is quoted as saying President Obama's actions may constitute an impeachable offense under U.S. law.

That suggestion is dismissed by Senator Lindsey Graham.

"I do not believe he [Obama] needs to come to Congress [for authorization],” Graham added. “I will gladly vote on what he did. I think it is inherent within the authority of the commander-in-chief to take such action."

For Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the issue is not whether President Obama is authorized to order military intervention in Libya. Rather, Lugar questioned the precedent the United States is setting in an appearance on CBS' Face the Nation program.

"We are talking about many countries in which our interests are involved,” Lugar said. “We had better get this straight from the beginning, or there is going to be a situation in which war lingers on [in] country after country, situation after situation."

The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war and, implicitly, the power to decline to do so. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 stipulates the president must get congressional approval to send American forces to combat zones beyond a 60-day timeframe. Weeks ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that seizing control of Libyan airspace would be an act of war. But since establishing the no-fly zone, the Obama administration has not specifically stated that the United States is at war with Libya.