Cantor: Congress feels left out on Libya

RICHMOND, Va. — President Obama must provide more answers to congressional questions about air strikes against Libya, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Thursday.

Cantor, the second-ranking Republican in the House, said the White House seemed more concerned with talking to U.S. allies than with lawmakers in the days before the strikes were authorized.

“Many members of Congress feel left out, that there wasn’t enough consultation with Congress prior to the commitment of forces and military action,” Cantor told reporters after an event in Richmond.

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He also said the public wants answers from the White House about U.S. objectives in Libya.

The public wants to know, “Where is the leadership, what is the endgame here, where is Washington taking us,” Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican, told reporters.

Cantor’s criticism comes a day after a letter to the White House from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that slammed Obama for not clearly stating the goals of the Libyan mission before launching the attacks. Boehner ripped the White House for offering a “sometimes contradictory” case for the war.

Obama launched the strikes just as Congress went into a weeklong recess. The House and Senate resume next week, but Cantor said he had not had “in-depth discussions” on whether the House might vote on a resolution next week that would press the administration for goals on Libya.

“I have not had any in-depth discussions about whether we would do anything like that yet next week,” Cantor said. “I do think there is a lot of concern as to the endgame in Libya.”

The White House has defended its consultations with lawmakers and has argued goals for the Libyan mission are clearly defined. The White House is backing up United Nations Security Council resolutions allowing for measures to protect Libyan civilians from violence, including the set-up of a no-fly zone.

But Obama has come under criticism for whether the goals of the operation also include removing Libya’s leader, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, from power. The U.S. military mission is not to remove Gadhafi from power, but U.S. policy is to have the dictator replaced. Boehner specifically labeled this distinction a contradiction in his Wednesday letter to Obama.

On the subject of consultations, Cantor said he spoke with officials during a Friday conference call and a subsequent call last weekend, but he said no specifics about the air attacks were discussed.

Cantor was unaware of any future briefing calls with congressional leaders and the White House, but he said he welcomed such conversation.

“We’re always ready to talk,” Cantor said.

Cantor criticized the White House’s policy on Israel and the Palestinian authorities in a Wednesday statement after the bombing of a bus in Jerusalem.

Asked how the administration was handling the situation in general in the Middle East, the Jewish lawmaker said he had “difficulty understanding what our security strategy in the Middle East is from a diplomacy standpoint or otherwise.”

“I continue to go back to the imperative that the number one security interest in that region is to stop the spread of radical Islam. If one is to take that as a priority, we should be focusing like a laser on stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities as far as its weaponry is concerned,” Cantor said.