White House officials are revealing little about what President Barack Obama might say in his Monday night speech on Libya, arguably the most important foreign policy address of his presidency.
But Members in both parties, frustrated with Obama for not seeking more input from Congress as he takes steps militarily in the North African nation, have plenty of demands for what they want him to say.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said many Americans want to know how long military operations will continue and are asking a “reasonable question” about what the U.S. role in Libya is.
“They’re wondering why U.S. forces are once again engaged in combat action against an Arab regime in the Middle East,” the Kentucky Republican said during remarks on the Senate floor.
McConnell said people have good cause to feel uncertain about the U.S. role in Libya because Obama “has failed to explain up to this point” what happens after the no-fly zone is established. In addition, he said, Obama has articulated “a wider political objective of regime change in Libya,” despite that not being the stated goal of U.S. military action.
“These concerns and questions are equally relevant here in the Senate and the Congress, since it is the responsibility of Congress to declare war, if it is war, and of course to fund our military operations,” McConnell added.
Sen. Bob Menendez said Obama needs to use his speech to frame Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi as a terrorist, given that he allegedly ordered the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988.
Gaddafi is “a terrorist” and “the moral equivalent of Osama bin Laden,” New Jersey Democrat said. “There is no question that, if given the chance, Gaddafi will continue to support terrorism and, therefore, continue to threaten Americans at home and abroad.”
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a vocal opponent of U.S. efforts in Libya, said in a statement that Obama owes the nation an explanation as to why he did not seek Congressional authorization before taking military action in Libya. The Ohio Democrat is the co-sponsor of an amendment that would cut off all funds for military action in Libya in the next government spending measure.
The Constitution is “very clear,” Kucinich said. “It is Congress that determines when our nation goes to war. President Obama superseded that authority and bought a new war for the American people without Congressional approval. We must know what it will cost, how long it will last, what is the end game, and when will NATO — whose military bills we pay — get out.”
White House officials gave little insight into what Obama would talk about in his speech during a briefing earlier Monday. But they emphasized that the administration is not setting a precedent for other Arab countries in the region that they should expect U.S. intervention amid political movements.
“We don’t get very hung up on this question of precedent,” said Denis McDonough, the president’s deputy national security adviser.
“We don’t make decisions about questions like intervention based on consistency or precedent,” he added. “We make them based on how we can best advance our interests in the region.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.