White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Thursday pushed back hard against criticisms that the administration did not consult with Congress before taking military action in Libya.
“Questions outlined by Members of Congress have by and large been answered” by President Barack Obama and other top administration officials, Carney said during a press briefing, his first full briefing since the U.S. began air strikes in Libya last week.
Obama has dispatched senior staff to meet with Congress on several occasions, he said, and has been engaged “in a very substantial way. And we will continue to do that.”
The administration has come under fire from Members in both parties for not getting Congress’ approval before authorizing strikes in Libya last week. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sent Obama a letter Wednesday questioning the mission, and liberal Democrats have vowed to introduce legislation to defund any military activity in Libya.
But Carney ticked off at least a dozen committee hearings and closed meetings that have taken place over the past month on the issue, citing dates and names of administration officials who met with lawmakers. He noted that Obama met with Hill leaders Friday to discuss a “limited and discreet mission” in Libya.
“It’s important that the American people understand how much consultation there has been,” he said.
Carney also said that while Congressional consultation “is vitally important,” the president is responsible for taking action when it will save lives — and knowing when delaying action will cost lives. Had Obama waited until next week for Congress to come into session before moving forward militarily in Libya, “there is not a question in anybody’s minds that ... there would be a lot of people killed in the process,” he said.
The White House spokesman said the administration is still operating under the assumption that the U.S. role in Libya will continue for a matter of days, not weeks. “We are at less than a week at the moment,” he said. The next phase will involve the U.S. providing resources to the international coalition, but “we will not be leading the effort to enforce the no-fly zone.”
Carney also brushed aside questions about the costs of the U.S. military action, but said there are contingency funds built into the Defense Department budget “for this kind of thing.”
“I don’t want to get into numbers because I’m not an economist,” he said.
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.