Boehner to Obama: Lawmakers 'troubled' by intervention in Libya

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), in a strongly worded letter to President Obama sent Wednesday, criticized the administration's handling of the situation in Libya, citing the absence of a well-defined mission and the lack of consultation with congressional leaders.

The two-page missive, a response to an Obama letter from Monday, marked Boehner’s most extensive reaction to the launch of U.S. military operations on Saturday.

It encapsulated much of the criticism coming from Capitol Hill in recent days — that the White House did not sufficiently consult with Congress before intervening in Libya and that it has provided an unclear and inconsistent explanation of U.S. goals there.

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“I respect your authority as commander in chief and support our troops as they carry out their mission,” Boehner wrote. “But I and many other members of the House of Representatives are troubled that U.S. military resources were committed to war without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what America’s role is in achieving that mission.

“In fact, the limited, sometimes contradictory, case made to the American people by members of your administration has left some fundamental questions about our engagement unanswered.”

The Speaker noted that Obama sought and won support from the United Nations and the Arab League, but he said: “A United Nations Security Council resolution does not substitute for a U.S. political and military strategy.”

Boehner said it was “a contradiction” for the military mission to exclude removing Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi from power even as it remained official U.S. policy that he step aside.

“In light of this contradiction, is it an acceptable outcome for Gadhafi to remain in power after the military effort concludes in Libya?” Boehner asked. “If not, how will he be removed from power?  Why would the U.S. commit American resources to enforcing a U.N. resolution that is inconsistent with our stated policy goals and national interests?"

The Speaker asked several other questions regarding the U.S. mission, including about the planned transfer of authority to an international coalition and how the U.S. would respond if the coalition broke apart. He also asked how long Obama anticipated the military operations to last and what impact they would have on the federal budget.

Finally, he asked: “All of these concerns point to a fundamental question: What is your benchmark for success in Libya?”

Boehner’s letter signaled a clear escalation in the tensions between the administration and Congress over the military intervention, and the Speaker joined lawmakers who have complained about a lack of consultation with the legislative branch.

“It is regrettable that no opportunity was afforded to consult with congressional leaders, as was the custom of your predecessors, before your decision as commander in chief to deploy into combat the men and women of our armed forces,” Boehner wrote.

The White House has pushed back against criticism that it did not consult with top lawmakers, citing a meeting Obama convened in the Situation Room last Friday with congressional leaders, a day before he ordered the first airstrikes on Libya.

“We obviously take very seriously … the need for congressional consultations. We have done them and will continue to do them,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday, according to a pool report.

“What the president did was make an action based on — make a decision based on an imminent threat of a humanitarian nature to a great number of Libyans, and he has done that with a great number of consultations with Congress that will continue.”

And, on Monday, Obama sent a letter to Boehner and the president pro tempore of the Senate saying he used his constitutional authority as commander in chief to order the action. The president returned from a trip to South America early Wednesday evening.

Larry Berman, an expert on the presidency and a political science professor at the University of California-Davis, said that a quick end to the strikes could quell the dust-up over congressional authority.

"The longer it goes, the more likely these war powers questions will dog the president," Berman said.

Earlier Wednesday, three Democratic Senate leaders – Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.), Carl Levin (Mich.) and Jack Reed (R.I.) – held a conference call to praise the president’s actions in Libya and said they had plenty of consultations with the administration.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a statement on Wednesday reiterating her support for the mission while saying that U.S. participation “is strengthened by the president’s continued consultation with Congress.”

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell (Ky.), has been silent on Libya since the U.S. military mission began.

Sam Youngman contributed.

This story was updated at 5:56 p.m.