Schumer: Congress should defer to Obama on setting up Libya no-fly zone

Sen. Charles Schumer said a no-fly zone over Libya is more likely given the Arab League’s endorsement on Saturday.

“I certainly think the Arab League’s decision makes a no-fly zone more likely,” said Schumer (D-N.Y.), who added it was better to enforce a no-fly zone on a multilateral basis.

Schumer also said he did not think Congress needed to weight in with a vote on the matter, saying lawmakers should defer to the president.

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“I believe on these we should defer to the commander in chief on short term, immediate situations like this,” he said.

The 22-member Arab League on Saturday called on the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to create safe zones for those fighting Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime. But getting the UN Security Council to approve a no-fly zone could be difficult. This would require the votes of both China and Russia.

Several lawmakers have been urging the administration to support imposing a no-fly zone. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have been the most vocal on the issue. Former President Bill Clinton also announced his support for a no-fly zone on Friday.

President Obama has said a no-fly zone is an option, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Saturday the Pentagon would have no problem in enforcing one if it is ordered.

Gates and other military leaders previously had been seen as tamping down calls for the no-fly zone by testifying to Congress on how complicated such an operation could be. If the U.S. launched a no-fly zone in Libya, that country would become the third Middle East nation where U.S. forces would be active.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said Sunday that he wasn't "going to reach a conclusion" on whether a no-fly zone should be set up as the conflict continued. He also said he would defer to the president and Pentagon. 

"That's why we have an administration, that's why we have a secretary of state and a secretary of defense," he said on Fox. "I know they're on top of this and monitoring it, and we're looking forward to seeing what their recommendations are."

Forces loyal to Gadhafi in the last week appear to have taken an upper hand in the battle with rebel groups, retaking territory and towns previously in the hands of the opposition.