Bipartisanship in Congress – Obama's Libya policy brings out critics on both sides
March 21st, 2011
07:24 PM ET
7 years ago

Bipartisanship in Congress – Obama's Libya policy brings out critics on both sides

Washington (CNN) - The military operation in Libya is resulting in something unusual in Congress these days: a bipartisan response of sharp criticism coming from both parties.

On the left, President Barack Obama's fellow Democrats, including Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-District of Columbia, say the president is "stirring up a lot of controversy."

"We're not coordinating with the rebels. Are we going to leave them surrounded, and with the mercy of Gadhafi? I've never seen anything so confused in my life," Norton told CNN.

On the right, lawmakers are demanding the president better explain the U.S. mission in Libya to Congress and the American people.

"The president should come home and call the Congress back into session and to make his case. He needs to define what the United States' vital mission is here, what is our vital interest, how does he see the potential cost unfolding here," said Rep. Candice Miller, R-Michigan, in an interview from her home district.

Over the weekend, leading Republicans - from House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, to House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, and House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon of California - said President Obama must more clearly define the mission.

In a telephone interview with CNN Monday, Ros-Lehtinen said she, too, believes the president should come to Capitol Hill.

"I would hope that our leadership on both sides of the aisle would ask President Obama to convene a joint session of Congress as soon as possible so that he could better define the mission and clearly articulate U.S. security interests in our operations in Libya," said Ros-Lehtinen.

One major complaint from top Republicans is what they call mixed signals coming from the administration, such as whether the goal is to get rid of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

On Sunday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told NBC, "The goals of this campaign right now again are limited ... it isn't about seeing him go."

Monday, President Obama said, "It is U.S. policy that Gadhafi needs to go."

The president insists there's no contradiction - one is military action to back a U.N. resolution, the other is U.S policy.

Veteran Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana opposed a no-fly zone in Libya from the start. He told CNN's "John King USA" he's more concerned now.

"I do not understand the mission because as far as I can tell in the United States there is no mission, and there are no guidelines for success," said Lugar.

The toughest criticism is coming from the president's own party. Democratic lawmakers issued terse statement after statement arguing that so far he has not fulfilled his constitutional obligation to consult Congress.

"In launching over 100 missiles on Libya this weekend, not only did the Defense Department undermine a carefully constructed consensus, which included the Arab League, but it leveled a devastating blow to our legislative-executive checks and balances," said Rep. Mike Honda, D-California.

"I demand a serious conversation in Congress before new countries are incautiously invaded and before America's legislative branch is eviscerated further," he said in a statement.

"I respect the President's expressed commitment to multilateralism and his attention to the United Nations. Britain and France, and other nations within the European Union as well as the Arab League have called for a no-fly zone in Libya," said Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Massachusetts.

"But consulting with allies does not exempt the Executive Branch from consulting with Congress," he said.
Capuano and Honda represent the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, but some moderates like Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, agree.

"Congress needs to understand the risk involved to the lives of our service members, how long the Administration anticipates U.S. involvement, the impact of our involvement on our other national security priorities like Afghanistan, and what the ultimate objective is," said Begich in a statement.

"The Administration needs to be straight with Congress and the American people about what the cost of this activity will be to American taxpayers," he said.

Rep. Norton participated in a House Democratic conference call Saturday during which lawmakers voiced intense criticism.

"The president is going to have a hard time getting Democrats to support this unless he comes forward with a great deal more," she told CNN.

To be sure, for all the criticism, the president also has congressional support in both parties for actions in Libya.

House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, told CNN the president has a "very clear defined role of what the United States is doing in support of France and Great Britain and our Arab League partners and other nations who are going to be leading the charge on the no-fly zone."

Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's second ranking Democrat, issued a short statement Monday backing action so far in Libya.

"With the full and unprecedented backing of the Arab League and the United Nations, U.S. forces, along with our allies, are enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya. I support this limited, international action," said Durbin.

In terms of consultation, the president did send a letter to Congress Monday which he says explains the U.S. mission in Libya but many Democrats say it's not enough - he also needs congressional approval for US military action.

Obama did meet with leaders last Friday in the White House situation room, but many lawmakers had already left Washington and participated by conference call, including House Speaker Boehner.

CNN is told that Boehner – whose support is critical -didn't ask any questions at that meeting.

A senior GOP source insisted the reason was it was difficult for Boehner to hear, and "nobody muted their phones on the 20-person call."

Boehner did not follow up afterward either.

- CNN's Deirdre Walsh and Rachel Streitfeld contributed to this report

Filed under: Congress • Libya
soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. DAVE

    wow! the monday morning quarterbacks rise up! i guess its all right but it seems like they want press more than doing their jobs. if i were as bad at doing my job as these people are i think i would work a little harder so my boss "the people" won't fire me! that goes for both sides of this circus act. go to work before all of washington DC looks like eygpt with people out side demanding that you all step down. i am from michigan and you slould look at wisconsin ohio, ill and other states because its already started!

    March 21, 2011 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  2. Sweetwalter

    Obama has done no more than Bush, Sr. did with the UN resolution during Desert Storm. They drove the Iraqi's out of Kuwait and withdrew. Unfortunately, Bush Jr., had to go back and clean up the mess but did it badly by disbanding the Sunni army which could have provided stability while the civilian government was being formed. Targeting Sadaam Husein and Osama bin Ladin personally was a major mistake as it just attracted 10's of thousands of Islamist to the terrorists cause. Let the Libyan insurgents go after Gadhafi...just give them the arms and training through a friendly Arabic state and keep Western boots off the ground.

    March 21, 2011 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  3. michael

    Delegate from DC, Eleanor Norton says she's never seen any military act so confusing? Really? Were you in a coma during Bush's circus act in Iraq?
    What a hypocrite she is?
    FACTS: Obama could have fabricated evidence that Libya has WMD's and then stage a full out war in the name of US democracy (also lying to the whole world and committing their troops to die as well).
    Or he could enter into an international decision that enforces the no fly zone over Libya along with alli es like France and other EU countries without ever putting anyone's soldiers or their families inharm's way. He did the latter by the way.

    March 21, 2011 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  4. Indy

    A senior GOP source insisted the reason was it was difficult for Boehner to hear, and "nobody muted their phones on the 20-person call."

    Boehner did not follow up afterward either.

    Sounds to me like Boehner did not care or had other things to do. I have conference calls every week and never is there an excuse for the meeting not to be clear, and if someone does not mute their phone they are told to mute their phone. With the technology today there is no excuse for a business meeting to not to be heard by everyone that joins in.If I was the speaker of the house I sure as hell would have made sure my positions were heard loud and clear. NO EXCUSE whatsover for Boehner to blame the phone system !!! What bar was he in that he could not hear ? No follow up ? NO EXCUSE. People get fired for these kind of excuses.

    March 21, 2011 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    Gee no body ever pays and attention to Dennis Kunich....that is until he has something negative to say about President Obama. Nothing partisian about this bunch in congress is it.?????

    March 21, 2011 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  6. Scott F

    My guess the reason he did not consult the Congress is because as a whole they are incompetent. They are ideological my way or the highway bought and paid for puppets manipulated by banks and Big Muilitnational Corporations.. These clowns don't even know how to spell compromise and have never developed the art of listening. These people have no credibility with the public and are a laughing stock in Washington, DC. Why consult Congress and watch progress die? It seems Obama on this one is the only adult in the room.

    March 21, 2011 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  7. Lynn

    Members of Congress are telling the president he needs to return early from his trip.......yet they are once again not in session?!They were just off for a week in February. How many people are aware they work only 3 weeks and then are off for a week? I found Boehner's excuse for not asking questions or voicing be weak/dishonest at best. This sounds like a lot of posturing on both sides of the aisle. And I hardly call the half dozen or so Democrats mentioned in the article the "many" you referred to in the broadcast who are upset with the president.

    March 21, 2011 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  8. sogreat1989

    I find this very funny. I believe these people who criticized him, especially the liberals, only did so because they sought an advantage in the polls. They probably thought that the American people would disagree with the President on a no-fly zone and sought to be against him. Right now I think they were wrong. Polls are siding with Obama on how he is handling Libya, not with these politicians who spend more time criticizing than working for the people who elected them.

    March 21, 2011 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  9. Rico

    Let's hear what candidate Obama had to say on the matter during a Dec. 20, 2007 interview with the Boston Globe.

    “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 responded.

    “As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States,” Obama continued. “In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch.”

    I guess now that he's President, his opinion of the matter has changed.

    March 21, 2011 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  10. Chuck

    So the GOP of all people thinks the President needs to justify attacking an Arab nation?

    March 21, 2011 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  11. Bill

    How convenient for Speaker Boehner that he couldn't hear. Of course, I guess he was too busy creating JOBS to mention at the conference call that he couldn't hear...

    March 21, 2011 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  12. John

    And if the President took no action... he'd be 'toasted' for that as well!

    March 21, 2011 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  13. Robert

    The mission is to not waste too much money. Which is better than a mission to waste as much as possible, but thats about all I can say about it.

    March 21, 2011 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  14. jules sand-perkins

    Nobody is cooperating.
    The far, far (no-war, no guns, but free-butter) Left is out to get power for itself.
    Republicans are out to take back any power the President has in his elected term.
    Raw examples of the human survival instinct fighting for dominance will make any mutually beneficial action impossible for this country or for any other group.
    At this point in his presidency, Obama is functioning brilliantly in a centrist position. He has forged an alliance of power with other nations that will be of benefit to all other nations involved in the Libyan affair, as well as to us.
    I understand and respect ambition, but sometimes opposing forces in government need to sit down, stop rocking the boat, and row together.

    March 21, 2011 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  15. zb

    Republicans and Democrats – equally pathetic.... first they complain the President doesn't act and then they complain when he does act. They are all a bunch of subhumans.

    March 21, 2011 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  16. Okey Moronu

    Boehner's excuse for not speaking is pathetic. He is a house leader and in a meeting of such importance he did not see fit to speak out if he could not hear.
    It is disgraceful that after sitting quietly through the conference, come out criticizing the policy he participated in planning.

    March 21, 2011 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  17. Mike

    Does it always have to be that the U.S. has an interest? Can't we simply do something because it is the right thing to do?
    People were being killed by this ruthless dictator. We are all neighbors and when our neighbor is in trouble we should step to the plate and help them out.
    Same with Iraq. Why does it have to be about WMD's? Isn't it enough to go in and simply do the right thing by taking out a man that the world is better off without?
    Do we have to wait until these scumbags become another Hitler before we decide to do something about it?
    We are acting in the best interest of the world at large no matter what the bleeding heart liberals will try and make you believe.
    There are those who will not support military action EVER. These people cannot be helped. Sometimes you need to do the unpopular thing just because you feel in your heart it is the right thing to do.
    I didn't vote for Obama but I do support him in his efforts to rid the world of yet another murderous dictator.

    March 21, 2011 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  18. usualone

    Did George Bush consult congress with the 2 wars that we are mired in? Don't think so.

    March 21, 2011 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  19. Aaron

    The goal was to establish a no-fly zone in Libya. What's so difficult for these politicians to understand about that? Maybe if they read CNN, they might get the picture, even the hypocrites who supported Bush's Iraqi invasion based on lies. Of course, at that time, if you criticized Bush over the war, the Repubs screamed you were unpatriotic. Get a black man in the White House, all they do is scream that he's wrong, wrong, wrong, no matter what the poor guy tries to do.

    March 21, 2011 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  20. Jeff In Ohio

    Congress people grandstanding...what else is new. I understand the presidents Libyan policy. Isn't there something useful for poor people congress can defund? Some subsidies for rich people congress needs to protect?

    March 21, 2011 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  21. Mtnjim

    First Repubs gripe Mr. Obama isn't acting, then they gripe because he acted, lose/lose.

    March 21, 2011 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  22. Tim, Seattle

    Oh the hipocracy...they demand to know the cost, but they didnt count cost in our 2 Gop wars we are still fighting.

    March 21, 2011 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  23. Ken in NC

    Sounds to me like Boehner is a "Didto Head". He was in on the call, asked no questions or voiced no disapproval and now he is upset that he was not given enough information to make a decision as to weather or not he would support the idea. He and "Sista Sarah" would make a matching couple.

    March 21, 2011 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  24. Lost in Texas FOREVER

    Ok now we hear about the ones in Congress that are not happy with the presidnet's decision, and they have every right not to be, BUT where are the ones that earlier claimed he was dragging his feet and not doing anything quick enough/ Sen McCain, Sarah Palin, Sen Graham WHERE ARE YOU NOW? Is it asking too much to come out and defend your president now, OR since you're Republicans that are normally critcal of most everything he does (esp Palin) I guess it's asking too much to stand up for him now.

    March 21, 2011 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  25. john koktowski

    You have got to be kidding me!!! Bush went into Iraq after the UN decided against it, he went alone in an illegal act. Obama is working with other countries , WITH UN approval, in atytemt to stop the killings we have seen there. Legal...........UN APPROVED........REAL allies!!! both parties need to shut up and learn to agree on more home related issues!!!

    March 21, 2011 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
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