Obama briefs lawmakers on Libya, says mission is going well

President Obama reached out to lawmakers by conference call Friday to update them on operations in Libya.

“The President and his team provided an update on accomplishments to date, including the full transfer of enforcement of the no-fly zone to NATO, and yesterday’s unanimous agreement among NATO allies to direct planning for NATO to assume command and control of the civilian protection component,” a White House statement said.

The president said that the U.S. military activity would be ratcheting down as other members of the coalition take an expanded role, according to a House GOP aide briefed on the call. Obama told lawmakers that the process of removing Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi begins with the international criminal court at the Hague and is not part of the U.S. military mission.

{mosads}The GOP aide said it was “unclear” how long the NATO effort would last and that the endgame was also unclear.

Obama and his national security advisers spoke with “a bipartisan, bicameral group” of 21 members, which included House and Senate leaders along with leadership of key committees.

“The Speaker appreciates the update today,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), said, “but still believes much more needs to be done by the Administration to provide clarity, particularly to the American people, on the military objective in Libya, America’s role, and how it is consistent with U.S. policy goals.”

“The president outlined his strategy for addressing the ongoing situation in Libya,” Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said following the teleconference. “However, Sen. McCain remains concerned about the possibility of Gadhafi remaining in power despite U.S. policy that calls for his removal and resulting in a stalemate.”

Obama “made a compelling case” for the military campaign, but how it ends remains “unclear,” House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said.

The president described for lawmakers a military campaign “that is going quite well,” Smith said during an interview on CNN. He added that Obama made clear the administration does not intend to use military force to oust the embattled Libyan leader.

Before the call began, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama would inform members of “what we’ve accomplished so far” and update them on “the transition of command and control to NATO.”

Carney characterized Obama’s call as a “conversation.”

“We want to hear what they think, and if they have suggestions for what we should be doing, obviously the president wants to hear that,” Carney said during his press briefing.

The president will deliver an address to the nation on Monday with an update on the situation in Libya, the White House announced Friday evening.

Obama will talk about “the actions we’ve taken with allies and partners to protect the Libyan people from the brutality of Moammar Qaddafi, the transition to NATO command and control, and our policy going forward,” according to a White House statement.

One week ago, Obama offered public, on-camera comments about the United Nations Security Council resolutions authorizing action in Libya. He also offered a statement on Saturday after the initial military strikes. 

Friday’s call with lawmakers comes after criticism that the administration did not do enough consultation with Congress before the mission began. Some lawmakers also have criticized the White House for a lack of clarity on the mission.

In a letter to Obama on Wednesday, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the White House had offered a contradictory message about the mission.

The White House has pushed back at that criticism, and Smith took a shot at congressional Republicans for what he sees as double speak, saying before Obama decided to go into Libya, they were pushing hard for action.

Carney on Friday repeated that if Obama had waited for Congress to return from recess to take action, “there’s little doubt Benghazi would have fallen and many, many people would have died.”

Benghazi, a stronghold of the rebels battling Gadhafi, appeared on the verge of falling before allied airstrikes began on Saturday.

The White House insists it has been clear that the mission is about protecting Libyan civilians.

“We understand that it’s our responsibility,” Carney said. “We take the need to do so very seriously.”

At the same time, administration officials have said that they would like Gadhafi to leave power, even though the military mission is not aimed at removing Gadhafi.

Carney also was adamant, as he has been since the strikes begun, that Obama has acted under his constitutional authority as commander in chief.

Smith told CNN he feels the president was fully in line with the War Powers Act. His actions in recent days to reach out to lawmakers also is ensuring that compliance, Smith said.

The HASC ranking member said Obama made the right decision to go in because Gadhafi was “systematically” killing his own people.

The Libyan operation will come under further scrutiny next week when Congress is back in session.

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday announced it would hold a hearing on Libya on Thursday. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has also announced a hearing. A briefing for all House members is scheduled on Wednesday.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will attend the Wednesday briefing. The two Cabinet members are also scheduled to appear Sunday on “Meet the Press,” “This Week” and “Face the Nation” as the administration works to explain its policy to the public.

Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, said at a Pentagon briefing Friday that the U.S. military remains in command of coalition airstrikes on Libyan military ground forces — part of the effort to protect Libyan civilians. 

NATO will soon control all other parts of the campaign, including enforcement of the no-fly zone and an arms embargo at sea.

According to the White House, the following lawmakers were on the call with Obama:

  • Speaker John Boehner 
  • House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
  • House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
  • House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer
  • Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell
  • Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl
  • Representative Adam Smith
  • Senator Carl Levin
  • Senator John McCain
  • Senator John Kerry
  • Senator Richard Lugar
  • Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
  • Representative Howard Berman
  • Senator Dianne Feinstein
  • Senator Saxby Chambliss
  • Representative Mike Rogers
  • Representative C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger
  • Senator Daniel Inouye
  • Senator Thad Cochran
  • Representative Hal Rogers
  • Representative Norm Dicks

Russell Berman contributed to this story.

—This story was originally published at 1:40 p.m. and was last updated at 6:00 p.m.

Tags Adam Smith Boehner Carl Levin Dianne Feinstein Eric Cantor Hillary Clinton John Boehner John Kerry John McCain Mitch McConnell Saxby Chambliss Thad Cochran
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