Crisis in Libya Too Urgent to Wait for Congress, White House Says

By Fred Lucas | March 25, 2011 | 4:48 PM EDT

An armed men stands among Libyan men attending Friday prayers in the main square in Benghazi, eastern Libya, Friday, March 25, 2011. The city saw many casualties during recent fighting in and around the city of Ajdabiya, where rebels clash now for weeks with troops of Moammar Gadhafi. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

Washington ( – The U.S. intervention into the Libyan civil war is constitutional even without congressional authorization, the White House spokesman said Friday.

Further, had President Barack Obama waited for Congress to return from recess, more Libyans would have been murdered by the regime of Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

“It is well within, as he described and others described, well within the president’s constitutional authority to take this military action,” Carney said. “The list of precedents is quite long. But he believes that consultation with Congress is important and wants to hear their thoughts about the mission, about the situation in Libya and about our overall policy there.”

As a candidate for president, Obama told The Boston Globe in an article published Dec. 20, 2007 the president must seek authorization by Congress before taking military action.

“The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” Obama told the newspaper.

The constitution vests the power of declaring war with Congress.

President George Washington, part of the Constitutional Convention, believed in a limited role for the executive branch in declaring war.

Washington declined to take military action in response to the Chickamauga Indians in 1792 without the approval of Congress, citing that for the president to take such action would be monarchial.

“The Constitution vests the power of declaring war with Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject, and authorized such a measure,” Washington said.


Carney did not cite specific precedents, but previous presidents have taken military action without congressional approval without a immediate threat threat to the U.S.

For instance, President Harry Truman did not get congressional approval to enter the conflict in Korea; President George H.W. Bush did not have congressional authority for military action in Panama and Congress did not OK President Bill Clinton’s military campaign in Kosovo.

Obama’s immediate predecessor President George W. Bush got broad bipartisan support from Congress for military strikes in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The president held a conference call Friday with members of Congress about the U.S. air strikes in Libya, a joint mission with Britain and France to enforce a no-fly zone over the country after Gadhafi took violent actions against those opposing his regime.

The action was approved by the United Nations Security Council, in a resolution that stopped short of the U.S. policy that Gadhafi – a long-time enemy of the United States and sponsor of terrorism – should step down.

However, the U.S. Congress did not authorize military action. This has prompted many members of Congress from both sides to criticize the move, with even some Democrats arguing it was not constitutional without approval from Congress.

Carney stressed that the president could not afford to wait for Congress to come back from recess.

“There was an urgency to act and had the president waited, given the preponderance of evidence that was available to everyone that Col. Gadhafi’s forces were about to move on Benghazi and wreak horrible damage and kill many, many Libyans,” Carney said. “Had he waited for Congress to come back, had he waited, taken more time, to debate and consult on this issue, I think there is very little doubt Benghazi would have fallen and that many people would have died. He believes very strongly that he made the right decision.”