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Should Congress Have Been Consulted Re: Libya?

March 20, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Over the weekend the U.S. military has been participating in airstrikes against the Libyan government, bombing Libyan air defense sites in order to enforce a no-fly zone, tanks near Benghazi in order to protect rebel soldiers, and, most recently, Gadhafi’s command center in Tripoli. Whether or not the attacks will directly target Libyan ground forces has yet to be seen. The attacks, known as operation Odyssey Dawn, are being carried out under the UN Security Council resolution that backs the use of military force to prevent the Libyan government from using their military to attack civilians. But some members of Congress, from both parties, see the attacks as an unlawful breach of Congress’ power to declare war, and some are going as far as calling for impeachment.

Politico reports on the congressional pushback from the left:

A hard-core group of liberal House Democrats is questioning the constitutionality of U.S. missile strikes against Libya, with one lawmaker raising the prospect of impeachment during a Democratic Caucus conference call on Saturday.

Reps. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Donna Edwards (Md.), Mike Capuano (Mass.), Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), Maxine Waters (Calif.), Rob Andrews (N.J.), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.) “all strongly raised objections to the constitutionality of the president’s actions” during that call, said two Democratic lawmakers who took part.

Kucinich, who wanted to bring impeachment articles against both former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney over Iraq — only to be blocked by his own leadership — asked why the U.S. missile strikes aren’t impeachable offenses.

Kucinich also questioned why Democratic leaders didn’t object when President Barack Obama told them of his plan for American participation in enforcing the Libyan no-fly zone during a White House Situation

Room meeting on Friday, sources told POLITICO.

And liberals fumed that Congress hadn’t been formally consulted before the attack and expressed concern that it would lead to a third U.S. war in the Muslim world.

Rep. Justin Amash [R, MI-3] has been leading the criticism on the Republican side, pointing out that even Obama himself when he was a member of Congress believed that attacks like the ones he has ordered in Libya violate the Constitution if Congress is not consulted. On Facebook he wrote:

Pres. Obama does not have the authority to launch strikes against Libya without congressional approval. As the President himself acknowledged during the campaign: “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.”

The Republican leadership is taking a milder position. In a statement, Speaker of the House John Boehner [R, OH-8] said that "Before any further military commitments are made, the Administration must do a better job of communicating to the American people and to Congress about our mission in Libya and how it will be achieved.”

Congress is in recess for the week for a district work period, so we’re not going to see any bills introduced on this or hearings scheduled right away. And it’s possible that we may never. Most members of Congress clearly support the actions being taken in Libya, regardless of procedural and legal considerations.

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