Boehner demands that Obama provide legal basis for Libya mission

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned President Obama in a letter Tuesday that he will be in violation of the War Powers Resolution on Sunday, since he has not received congressional authorization for the military mission in Libya.

Boehner demanded that Obama provide legal justification for the operation in Libya by Friday. The Speaker noted that earlier this month the House passed a resolution stating explicitly that the administration has not sought or received authorization from Congress.

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“Therefore, it would appear that in five days, the administration will be in violation of the War Powers Resolution unless it asks for and receives authorization from Congress or withdraws all U.S. troops and resources from the mission,” Boehner wrote.

The 1973 War Powers Resolution says the president can only deploy U.S. military forces for a maximum 90 days without authorization from Congress. The Obama administration has said its actions have been consistent with the resolution, but like previous administrations, it has not acknowledged the constitutionality of the measure.

In response to Boehner’s letter, a spokesman for the National Security Council said the administration was close to providing information to Congress about the Libya operation and defended the White House’s actions so far.

“We are in the final stages of preparing extensive information for the House and Senate that will address a whole host of issues about our ongoing efforts in Libya, including those raised in the House resolution as well as our legal analysis with regard to the War Powers Resolution,” NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor said. “Since March 1, administration witnesses have testified at over 10 hearings that included a substantial discussion of Libya and participated in over 30 member or staff briefings, and we will continue to consult with our Congressional colleagues.”

Boehner’s letter is another move in an escalating confrontation between Congress and the administration over Libya. 

Anger over the war was also reflected by Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s (D-Ohio) announcement Tuesday that he would file a federal lawsuit against the war on Wednesday. 

Two weeks ago, the Speaker said the administration was not “technically” in violation of the War Powers Resolution. But with opposition to the operation mounting in the House, he had to move quickly to head off passage of a measure that would have required the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces. Boehner drafted his resolution rebuking Obama and demanding a raft of information, which the House passed with bipartisan support.

In his letter, the Speaker moved closer to the position of lawmakers who have argued the Libya operation is illegal. 

Boehner wrote: “Given the mission you have ordered to the U.S. Armed Forces with respect to Libya and the text of the War Powers Resolution, the House is left to conclude that you have made one of two determinations: either you have concluded the War Powers Resolution does not apply to the mission in Libya, or you have determined the War Powers Resolution is contrary to the Constitution. 

“The House, and the American people whom we represent, deserve to know the determination you have made.”

Citing Obama’s oath of office and the Constitution, Boehner asks the president to provide the administration’s legal analysis regarding the War Powers Resolution and demands an answer by Friday. That is also the date by which the House-passed measure demands a response from the White House.

Boehner intensified his criticism of Obama’s handling of Libya and noted “the ongoing, deeply divisive debate originated with a lack of genuine consultation prior to commencement of operations and has been further exacerbated by the lack of visibility and leadership from you and your administration.” 

The Speaker has suggested that if the White House does not respond adequately to the House-passed resolution, which is non-binding, the House could take further action, such as withholding funds for the mission.

Obama has endorsed a bipartisan resolution in the Senate, which is now stalled, that voices congressional support for the NATO-led mission, but he has not asked for explicit authorization from Congress.

This story was updated at 3:52 p.m. and 8:14 p.m.