Administration briefing changes few minds on Libya involvement

House lawmakers emerged from a classified briefing on the situation in Libya as divided as they were when they went in.

A host of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats reiterated their condemnation of the operations, citing cost, timing and constitutional concerns, while Democratic leaders were much more supportive of the White House decision to intervene in the violent uprising to unseat Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. 

Top GOP leaders, meanwhile, remained noncommittal on the operations, as they have been over the last two weeks.

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Leading the hour-long briefing were Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, James Clapper, the national intelligence director, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen. The gathering was designed to provide an operational update and quell congressional concerns. 

In the case of Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), it didn't work. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Chairman said the “humanitarian mission” simply doesn't square with the White House’s stated “political goal” of Gadhafi leaving power.

“We did no-fly zones in Iraq and Bosnia, and those didn’t resolve anything,” McKeon told The Hill. “For this thing to be resolved, someone is going to have to put boots on the ground.” 

Rep. Dan Burton (Ind.), the No. 3 Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also minced few words when it came to his displeasure with the White House decision.

"Not consulting Congress is crazy," Burton said. "Who's going to pick up the tab for all this?"

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the White House was justified in acting as it did because Gadhafi’s forces were moving in to “slaughter” civilians in Benghazi. Still, Hoyer conceded that “there rarely is a clear endgame” for such missions.

Top Republican leaders, including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), declined to comment following the briefing. Both lawmakers said Tuesday that they have lingering questions about the U.S. involvement. Neither of their offices would comment on whether those concerns were alleviated Wednesday.

Gates and Clinton briefed House members before a Senate briefing later on Wednesday.

The administration has argued it did reach out to the congressional leadership before participating in the air and sea strikes.

The briefings came two days after Obama delivered a nationally televised speech in which he sought to define his decision to intervene in Libya, which he said was based largely on humanitarian grounds because Moammar Gadhafi had threatened his country’s citizens with violence.

"To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and, more profoundly, our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are," Obama said. "And as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."

GOP leaders, including Boehner, say they have lingering questions about the Pentagon's goals.

"I didn't see victory defined," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Tuesday about Obama's speech. "A lot of us are left asking what the endgame is. A lot of us are asking questions about how long we're going to be there."

Gates said over the weekend he could not predict how long the operation would last.

Complicating the case for White House officials, the Pentagon this week estimated that the campaign has already cost U.S. taxpayers $550 million – no small sum at a time of intense congressional debate over how to rein in soaring deficit spending.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) on Wednesday became the latest lawmaker to add an opposing voice to the administration's actions. In a fiery floor speech, she accused Obama of concocting a "premeditated" plan to launch the attacks after Congress left Washington for last week's recess.

"I'm highly concerned that this military intervention took the familiar pattern of launching attacks just when Congress left town to go back to our districts for a week, thus silencing our voices in Congress even more as this floor was shut down," she said. "How premeditated, and how irresponsible, I believe the current course of events to be."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), another fierce critic of the Libyan operation, is scheduled to make an hour-long floor speech on Thursday criticizing the war as unconstitutional because Congress never approved it.

"We are in the midst of a foreign policy and constitutional crisis," Kucinich said on the floor Wednesday. "The administration has committed our nation to a war against Libya in violation of the Constitution of the United States."

Kucinich recently wondered aloud whether that was an impeachable offense, though he later said he had no intention of bringing impeachment proceedings against Obama.

Two House Republicans — Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Timothy Johnson (R-Ill.) — have offered legislation calling for an end to the Libyan intervention unless Congress provides its stamp of approval.

"There's a strong belief that the president has acted illegally," Johnson told Fox News this week. 

Other co-sponsors of that measure include Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Kucinich.


This post was updated at 5:45 p.m.

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