While President Barack Obama congratulated the people of Libya on their new independence, Sen. John McCain (center) said the president should have acted sooner and more aggressively in the African nation.
President Barack Obama today congratulated the Libyan people after reports of the death of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and said the United States stands ready to be their partner as they move to a new government.
"You have won your revolution," Obama said. "One year ago, the notion of a free Libya seemed impossible, but the Libyan people rose up and demanded their rights."
Obama also pushed back against earlier criticism from hawks on Capitol Hill, including Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), who said he should have acted sooner and more aggressively in Libya.
Obama said the "U.S. and our allies stopped the Gadhafi forces" and achieved the mission "without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground."
Obama said Libyans now have a responsibility to move to an interim government, hold free and fair elections, and respect the human rights of all Libyans, including detainees.
The news of Gadhafi's demise was met with bipartisan approval, although Obama still came under criticism for not having acted earlier.
McCain said fewer Libyans would have been wounded or killed during the months of fighting if the United States had intervened more aggressively.
"We led from behind," he said. "We should have used the full weight of American air power."
Rubio also took Obama to task, saying the British and the French deserve most of the credit for Gadhafi's defeat.
"Today would have happened months ago" if the United States had acted sooner, he said.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) dismissed the criticism, calling it "way off base."
"I think the Libyans are very satisfied," he said.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who had criticized the administration on Libya at times, also held back.
"Look, it worked," he said.
In the wake of the news, Lieberman said now may be the time to consider additional actions in Syria. He said the United States should consider implementing a no-fly zone over Syria and possibly set up havens with no-fly and no-drive zones in border areas with an international guarantee of safety.
But McCain said he didn't think Turkey would be amenable to a safe haven on its borders and suggested increasing sanctions on Syria should be the next step.
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.