In 2007, when there was a flurry of speculation that President George W. Bush might bomb Iran’s nuclear installations, then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) declared it would be unconstitutional unless authorized by Congress.
“The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” he said.
Obviously, now that he is president, Obama has changed his mind. Without any Congressional authorization, he has launched missile and air strikes against dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s forces in Libya and plans to continue using U.S. military assets to support NATO-led operations there.
It’s true that Congress was on a weeklong break when the U.S. attacks on Libya started, but Obama might well have called Congress back if he truly respected Congress’ role in war-making. Instead, he is behaving as most of his recent predecessors have — and is being criticized for it, in the main, only by handfuls of anti-war liberals and some tea party conservatives.
When Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wrote a letter to Obama on March 23 complaining that the president had gone to war “without clearly defining” the mission for Congress, he also declared, “I respect your authority as Commander-in-Chief” to carry out the mission.
Obama is even getting away with not respecting the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which requires the president to officially notify Congress within 48 hours after launching a military operation.
Presidents since 1973 have not regarded the resolution as binding on them, but some have acceded to its terms. It has been 10 days since Obama began Libyan operations, and he has not delivered a formal notification. We would have thought, given his Senatorial past, that he would.
Beyond the questions of authorization and notification, there’s a dispute over whether Obama adequately “consulted” with Congress. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) have complained that he has not.
But on March 24, White House spokesman Jay Carney ticked off a long list of briefings held for Congressional leaders and committees on the administration thinking about Libya — culminating in a White House meeting March 18 with virtually all leaders of both parties, including Cantor and Lugar.
Today, a classified briefing for Members of Congress is scheduled to take place in the Capitol Visitor Center and open hearings are under way in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee and both chambers’ Armed Services panels.
It looks to us as though there has been plenty of consultation by the Obama administration on Libya, but that this former Senator has decided he can launch military operations without Congressional authorization or even notification.
What bothers us more than his reversal is that he’s being allowed by Congressional leaders and all but a handful of Members to get away with it.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.