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Rising Conflict on Libya

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
Sen. John McCain is working on a resolution of support for U.S. involvement in Libya but has so far had trouble rounding up votes.

Members of Congress blame President Barack Obama for inviting a constitutional confrontation over Libya, saying the president completely mishandled the politics of the issue.

Though the White House tried Wednesday to tamp down concerns that it had not gotten Congress' approval for the continuing military intervention in Libya, irritation on Capitol Hill reached a fever pitch. A bipartisan group of House Members filed a lawsuit against Obama, asserting the administration is flouting the constitutional separation of powers and the War Powers Act. Others wondered whether the administration's report on the military's effort in the troubled North African region would satisfy Congress' demands for a robust justification of the use of U.S. resources, and one Democratic lawmaker accused Obama of wasting precious time that could have been used to build support for the NATO-led effort.

Republican Rep. Steve King said Obama "has done a terrible job of communicating with Congress" on Libya. But the Iowa Republican also noted that Members are in a difficult position because bringing up a resolution to effectively end the Libyan effort could jeopardize U.S. relations with NATO allies and send the wrong message to nations abroad.

"I'm concerned about sending the wrong message, not just to the NATO allies but to the enemies, because when they see division in our camp, it encourages them, and that costs American lives," King said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney echoed that sentiment Wednesday.

"Now is not the time to send mixed messages as we've had the success that we've had in that mission," he said.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said House leaders gave Obama time to repair the problem when on June 3 they passed Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) nonbinding resolution calling on the president to provide a justification for participating in NATO-led air strikes intended to enforce a no-fly zone and an arms embargo. The resolution gave Obama two weeks to comply with the request.

"Frankly, the Boehner resolution bought the president time; that time seems to have been squandered, and that's most unfortunate," Connolly said.

Boehner, purposely or not, also did the president a favor by giving his Members an alternative to a resolution by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) that might have caused an international incident because it called for the U.S. military to end its engagement in Libya within 15 days. Given bipartisan support for Kucinich at the time, his proposal stood a good chance of passing.

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