Congressmen sue President over Libya War

As we’ve blogged about earlier, President Obama, in his participation in the war in Libya, has ignored the 60 day deadline for the engagement of American troops without Congressional approval as stipulated in the War Powers law.  Now ten Congressmen, a coalition of both liberals and conservatives, has filed suit against the President. So the President has finally sent a message to Congress saying why he doesn’t need their approval:

Facing growing opposition on Capitol Hill, the White House insisted Wednesday that it’s within its legal rights to wage war in Libya without explicit authorization from Congress, essentially because no American lives are at risk.

The administration argued that its limited role in the allied air campaign against Libya means it’s not really the kind of escalating war that would require approval from Congress or an end to fighting after 60 days under the War Powers Resolution, passed in 1973 in response to the Vietnam War.

Even before the White House could send its arguments to Capitol Hill, 10 members of the House of Representatives – conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats – filed suit in U.S. District Court Wednesday challenging President Barack Obama’s right to wage the war, even if in a supporting role.

“We believe the law was violated,” said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, one of the effort’s leaders. “We have asked the courts to protect the American people from the results of these illegal policies.”

In a 32-page report to Congress, the White House laid out its argument.

“U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors,” the White House said.

“We’re now in a position where we’re operating in a support role,” said a senior Obama administration official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity under White House policy.

“We’re not engaged in sustained fighting. There’s been no exchange of fire with hostile forces. We don’t have troops on the ground. We don’t risk casualties to those troops. None of the factors, frankly, speaking more broadly, has risked the sort of escalation that Congress was concerned would impinge on its war-making power,” the official said.

The White House also warned Congress against questioning the U.S. commitment at a time when Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi may be on his way out. “Now is not the time to send mixed messages,” said spokesman Jay Carney.

The White House report also said the U.S. has spent $716 million through June 3 on bombs and other supplies since helping launch the allied air campaign on March 19, a cost expected to rise to $1.1 billion by Sept. 30.

via White House defends U.S. role in Libya after lawmakers sue – Politics Wires – MiamiHerald.com.

So we’ve blown up $716 million worth of bombs, but we’re not fighting?  They aren’t hostilities when the other side can’t hurt our guys though we can just hurt them?  Or when our forces are under NATO and UN command?

Since the Constitution places war-making power in the legislative body and not simply at the sole discretion of the commander-in-chief, I think a Supreme Court ruling would be helpful in clearly defining the parameters.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • EricM

    The hubris is amazing. First the administration determines that DOMA is unconstitutional even though the law has not been declared so by the courts (whose job it actually is to make such determinations) and now the administration determines that it will not comply with the War Powers Act. Since when does the administration get to determine which laws it will and will not abide by?

  • EricM

    The hubris is amazing. First the administration determines that DOMA is unconstitutional even though the law has not been declared so by the courts (whose job it actually is to make such determinations) and now the administration determines that it will not comply with the War Powers Act. Since when does the administration get to determine which laws it will and will not abide by?

  • SKPeterson

    Since when have Congressmen been interested in upholding the law or the Constitution?

  • SKPeterson

    Since when have Congressmen been interested in upholding the law or the Constitution?

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Instead of a Supreme Court decision, what about impeachment? He’s clearly violating the law, as he is with czars, oil drilling permits, and FOIA requests.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Instead of a Supreme Court decision, what about impeachment? He’s clearly violating the law, as he is with czars, oil drilling permits, and FOIA requests.

  • DonS

    Given the insistence on adherence to the War Powers Act by Democrats over the years since its passage in the 1970′s, this refusal to comply, by a formerly rather pacifist Democrat who was openly critical of our military actions in the Middle East when he was a senator, is rather amazing.

  • DonS

    Given the insistence on adherence to the War Powers Act by Democrats over the years since its passage in the 1970′s, this refusal to comply, by a formerly rather pacifist Democrat who was openly critical of our military actions in the Middle East when he was a senator, is rather amazing.

  • Joe

    I think the case will get dismissed under the political question doctrine. If congress wants to assert itself in this issue it can defund the operation.

  • Joe

    I think the case will get dismissed under the political question doctrine. If congress wants to assert itself in this issue it can defund the operation.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    While I’m still of the opinion that Obama is in breach of the War Powers Resolution, I do have to admit, after giving it another look, that it certainly does hinge on an understanding of what, exactly, constitutes “hostilities” — the word appears 23 times in the fairly short text of the law.

    And, in my reading, the text appears to assume that our troops would be involved in something more like Korea or Vietnam than what they’re currently doing in Libya. This is the problem with laws written to address specific problems — they’re so easily danced around when the scenario inevitably changes.

    You’ll note that the War Powers Act does not apply to “deployments which relate solely to supply, replacement, repair, or training of such forces”. Arguing we’re “operating in a support role” appears to be an attempt to fit into that exception.

    And I don’t know enough about our tactics in Libya to know if we actually have any troops in “the territory, airspace or waters” of Libya. I know we have drones and cruise missiles in those arenas, but are our troops? I’m not sure.

    And that’s an interesting question: do unmanned weapons count as “United States Armed Forces”? That seems semantically difficult to argue. But if they don’t count, then couldn’t a President launch as many cruise missiles and drones as he wished, without ever worrying about the constitutionality of it all?

    Again, I don’t think the authors of the War Powers Act foresaw such a question.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    While I’m still of the opinion that Obama is in breach of the War Powers Resolution, I do have to admit, after giving it another look, that it certainly does hinge on an understanding of what, exactly, constitutes “hostilities” — the word appears 23 times in the fairly short text of the law.

    And, in my reading, the text appears to assume that our troops would be involved in something more like Korea or Vietnam than what they’re currently doing in Libya. This is the problem with laws written to address specific problems — they’re so easily danced around when the scenario inevitably changes.

    You’ll note that the War Powers Act does not apply to “deployments which relate solely to supply, replacement, repair, or training of such forces”. Arguing we’re “operating in a support role” appears to be an attempt to fit into that exception.

    And I don’t know enough about our tactics in Libya to know if we actually have any troops in “the territory, airspace or waters” of Libya. I know we have drones and cruise missiles in those arenas, but are our troops? I’m not sure.

    And that’s an interesting question: do unmanned weapons count as “United States Armed Forces”? That seems semantically difficult to argue. But if they don’t count, then couldn’t a President launch as many cruise missiles and drones as he wished, without ever worrying about the constitutionality of it all?

    Again, I don’t think the authors of the War Powers Act foresaw such a question.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “And that’s an interesting question: do unmanned weapons count as “United States Armed Forces”? That seems semantically difficult to argue. But if they don’t count, then couldn’t a President launch as many cruise missiles and drones as he wished, without ever worrying about the constitutionality of it all?”

    Great question. I would say, technically, yes, he could send all the unmanned stuff he wanted. Now, that would not be prudent to do too much of, but yeah. He could, and it would be cheaper!!!! But could he please both Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul with such actions? Dunno. They may be too principled.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “And that’s an interesting question: do unmanned weapons count as “United States Armed Forces”? That seems semantically difficult to argue. But if they don’t count, then couldn’t a President launch as many cruise missiles and drones as he wished, without ever worrying about the constitutionality of it all?”

    Great question. I would say, technically, yes, he could send all the unmanned stuff he wanted. Now, that would not be prudent to do too much of, but yeah. He could, and it would be cheaper!!!! But could he please both Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul with such actions? Dunno. They may be too principled.

  • Joe

    tODD- your post is a great example of why I predict that the court will not hear the case.

  • Joe

    tODD- your post is a great example of why I predict that the court will not hear the case.


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