Bipartisanship in Congress – Obama's Libya policy brings out critics on both sides
March 21st, 2011
07:24 PM ET
9 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. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Boehner and the GOP first order of business was reading the entire Constitution on Jan. 10, 2010 which does include the Presidential powers. Article 1, Section 8 gives the President the power to give Congress a 48 hours notice, which he did, to enter our military into a conflict for no more than 90 days and in compliance with the U.N. which is the case in Libya. Republicans are scrambling because it is they who look very stupid.

    March 21, 2011 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  2. Moose

    Our Nobel Peace Prize Prez bombing another country. That HAS to be a first! Am racking my brain....let's see....what other Nobel Peace Prize winner in history went on to later bomb another country???
    Answer: Crickets chirping

    March 21, 2011 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  3. Moose

    Wait - I thought our "Community Organizer in Chief" didn't support war? So, we don't intervene in the Sudan when the atrocities there are committed DAILY.....but we bomb another country at $650,000 per Tomahawk missile? Remind me, is Bush still in the White House? Oh,'s that Community Organizer with ZERO experience. Isn't he suppose to be campaigning???

    March 21, 2011 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  4. Moose

    How hilarious is it that the same shills SUPPORTING this bombing are the same putzes who condemned Bush for invading Iraq? Hipocrites all of you! Stupid Dumbocrats.

    March 21, 2011 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  5. RAMBLE3144

    Key question is why attack Gadhafi? He doesn't threaten the US as Saddam did or seemed to. And there are 20 other dictators worldwide who have done worse to their own and killed more. He's putting down an insurrection. To him, that's justifable. Our so-called leader, doesn't make that "why" clear.

    March 21, 2011 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  6. The Other Dale

    It's very simple – Congress is upset because Obama is actually, y'know, doing something. All Congress likes to do is sit around and moan and groan and try to drive up numbers for their next election. As for confusing the issue – Obama seems to be pretty much on-target. It's the slow-minded people in Congress that don't seem to have a gameplan.

    March 21, 2011 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  7. john TN

    I trust the president is moving cautiously and consulting with the regional countries. I don't think it really matters what the president does, he will be criticized from all sides regardless. Until I hear a united approach, I will support Obama.

    March 21, 2011 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  8. NC

    obama doesn't want to be the president of the United States anymore. He thinks this president thing was going to be a breeze and that all Americans would like him. He doesn't want America to be a super power anymore. He wants America to be the guy who follows and doesn't lead. I feel that the American people are done with obama and can not wait for 2012 to vote him out. We need a leader who loves this country and wants her to be whole again. Vote with a responsible mind in 2012. Vote for the Republican in 2012.

    March 21, 2011 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  9. Jody

    It just goes to show the support of our current president for extremist Islam and their desire to not only control the Arabic nations but long term in the U.S. as well.

    March 21, 2011 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  10. charles

    We are so indebted that any mormal human being would even think of starting another war. To some war is an investment , but not all americans agree with this. I dont agree with all dictators, but Tunisia, Egypt and many other countries where revolutions have successfully taken place without any millitary involvement. Politics is playing out now, with all those who were supporting or quite are coming out strongly condemning as if they never saw the war coming. It looks now that every president has to put war on their resumes to qualify for being a strong president. Obama should bring peace to Afaghanstan, Pakistan whose instability has more to the security of this country. God Bless this Great Country.

    March 21, 2011 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  11. Robert in Seattle

    There was no time to consult Congress. President Obama made it very clear that America was NOT leading this military action. The U.N. voted and approved the resolution to use whatever force necessary, and I swear it was the fastest vote I have ever seen. Even China and Russia abstained.

    This could be the tipping point in the Middle East towards a decisive embrace of Democracy..

    March 21, 2011 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  12. the real ib

    Bush got the ok from the congress on Iraq; Obama didn't get anything from congress on Libya. People thought Iraq had WMD's; Libya has nothing; Iraq gassed citizens by the thousands; Libya has killed citizens. Question; why was Bush so wrong and Obama is not?

    March 21, 2011 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
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