Obama faces bipartisan pushback on force; US has no 'king's army'

President Obama has long trumpeted a desire to see lawmakers from both sides come together in bipartisan fashion, and now they have: to criticize his taking military action in Libya without formally consulting Congress.

In a harshly worded statement Monday evening, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) declared, “The United States does not have a king's army.”

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“President Obama's unilateral choice to use U.S. military force in Libya is an affront to our Constitution,” said Bartlett, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Dick Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a frequent ally of the president on foreign policy, also called Monday for "full congressional debate on the objectives and costs" of military action in Libya — and a declaration of war if it goes on.

"There needs to be a plan about what happens after [Moammar] Gadhafi,” Lugar (Ind.) said in a statement. “Who will be in charge then, and who pays for this all? President Obama, so far, has only expressed vague hopes.”

Criticism has come just as quickly, and just as forcefully, from Democrats. 

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, said Obama lacks the constitutional authority to conduct military operations in Libya.

"While the legislative and executive branches have long grappled over the exact division of powers in times of war, the Constitution grants sole authority to the Congress to commit the nation to battle in the first instance," he said in a statement Monday night. "That decision is one of the most serious that we are called upon to make and we should never abdicate this responsibility to the President. 

"I therefore join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in calling for an immediate session of Congress to review United States military engagement in Libya." 

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, told MSNBC Monday “this isn’t the way our system is supposed to work.”

“We have not put this issue in front of the American people in any meaningful way,” said Webb. “The president is in Rio, the Congress is out of session.”

In a conference call over the weekend, several House Democrats reportedly raised questions about the president’s action in Libya.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) also said the president should have consulted Congress.

“I truly believe … that before we put our young people in harm’s way that people in the Congress should be able to explain to their constituents that our national security was in jeopardy," he said Monday.

Obama secured United Nations approval in the form of a Security Council resolution that calls for the protection of Libyan citizens, and waited until the Arab League endorsed a no-fly zone, despite initial opposition. And the president met with congressional leaders at the White House Friday, to discuss the situation in Libya, before leaving on a five-day overseas trip. 

Under the War Powers Resolution, a president must obtain congressional authorization to deploy U.S. troops, except in the case of a clear threat or emergency.


But Obama’s critics have invoked his own words against him in making their case that Congress should have been involved.

In 2007, he told The Boston Globe that it is always “preferable” to have “the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.”

“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 said, responding to a question about when a president could bomb Iran without use-of-force authorization from Congress. “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.”

On Monday afternoon, responding to the congressional pushback, he sent a two-page letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the president pro tem of the Senate, asserting his constitutional authority.

He noted he did not deploy ground troops into Libya and that the U.S. is conducting a “limited and well-defined mission in support of international efforts to protect civilians and prevent a humanitarian disaster.”

He said he "directed these actions, which are in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as commander in chief and chief executive."

"I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution," he wrote. "I appreciate the support of the Congress in this action."

The president did not mention the budgetary impact of the military campaign in that letter, but cost has become a flashpoint.

“The facts are that our budget is stretched too far and our troops are stretched too far,” Lugar said in a statement. “The American people require a full understanding and accounting, through a full and open debate in Congress.” 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) put it somewhat less formally over the weekend, asking in a tweet: “On Libya, is Congress going to assert its constitutional role or be a potted plant?”

John T. Bennett, Mike Lillis, Josiah Ryan and Sam Youngman contributed to this article.