White House Says It Did Consult With Congress on Libya; Suggests Some Criticism ‘Driven by Politics’

By Fred Lucas | March 24, 2011 | 6:24 PM EDT

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, March, 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

(CNSNews.com) – Congress was adequately consulted before the military assault against Libya began, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Thursday. Congress did not formally authorize military action, but Carney laid out a number of instances in which President Barack Obama and various administration officials informed members of Congress.

Members of Congress from both parties have raised objections to the president ordering U.S. airstrikes in Libya to enforce a no-fly zone against the government of dictator Moammar Gadhaffi.

Obama himself, as a presidential candidate, said in 2007 that, “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.”

In a letter Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) asked the president why he did not seek more input from Congress.

“It is my hope that you will provide the American people and Congress a clear and robust assessment of the scope, objective, and purpose of our mission in Libya and how it will be achieved,” Boehner wrote.

Carney said Thursday that he believes most of the points Boehner brought up were answered.

“We believe, and the president believes very strongly, that consultations with Congress are important,” Carney said. “It’s part of his responsibility as president on an issue like this to consult with members of Congress, and he has done that. He has instructed senior staff here to do that, and we have in a very substantial way consulted with Congress, and we’ll continue to do that.”

Carney began to list the dates when either the president or administration officials had briefed Congress about Libya.

On Feb. 28, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper briefed members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in a closed-door session on Libya and Somalia, Carney said.

On March 1, a similar closed-briefing was held with members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on issues in the Middle East, North Africa, including Libya. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on March 1, which included discussions on Libya.

On March 2, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen testified at a hearing on Defense Department appropriations that included discussions on Libya and the no-fly zone. Also on March 2, Clinton spoke to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about Libya, Carney said.

On March 4, 10, and 14, officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence briefed Boehner on Libya in a classified briefing – that was March 14th. On March 17th, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Burns testified in open session to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on popular uprisings in the Middle East, but the main focus was on Libya.

“On March 18, the president invited members of Congress, a bipartisan, bicameral leadership meeting at the White House to consult on Libya and to brief them on the limited, discreet and well-defined participation that he envisioned for the United States to help implement the U.N. resolution,” Carney said.

This meeting included Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Minority White Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), Rep. C.A. Ruppersberger (D-Md.), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.).

“Consultations continued on the 18th and 19th and forward, and they will continue from this day forward,” Carney said.

One reporter asked, “You read off that long list of consultations – why then are these concerns coming from the Hill? Is this just whining?”

Carney responded, “No, no. We think that it is important to consult with members of Congress. We think the questions that have been asked have been legitimate. There has been some, obviously – not members of Congress, but elsewhere I think -- some commentary that has been perhaps driven by politics.

“But in terms of members of Congress, we think their questions and concerns are legitimate and need to be answered, which is why the president has, on numerous occasions, not just consulted with Congress but taken your questions and made statements about Libya just in the last week, nearly every day, in fact, and will continue to do that,” Carney added.

The U.S. joined allies France and Britain in the airstrikes to enforce the no-fly zone after the United Nations Security Council gave the green light last week. However, Congress did not authorize use of force by the president.

In his letter to the president Wednesday, Boehner said, “A United Nations Security Council resolution does not substitute for a U.S. political and military strategy. You have stated that Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi must go, consistent with U.S. policy goals. But the U.N. resolution the U.S. helped develop and signed onto makes clear that regime change is not part of this mission.”

The letter then asks, “In light of this contradiction, is it an acceptable outcome for Qadhafi to remain in power after the military effort concludes in Libya? If not, how will he be removed from power? Why would the U.S. commit American resources to enforcing a U.N. resolution that is inconsistent with our stated policy goals and national interests?”

Boehner asked several other questions in the letter.

“Operationally, does enforcement of a no-fly zone require U.S. forces to attack non-air or command and control operations for land-based battlefield activities, such as armored vehicles, tanks, and combatants?” he asked.

Also, “Your Administration has repeatedly said our engagement in this military action will be a matter of ‘days, not weeks.’ After four days of U.S. military action, how soon do you expect to hand control to these other nations?”

Also, Boehner asked in his letter, “We are currently in the process of setting priorities for the coming year in the budget. Has the Department of Defense estimated the total cost, direct and indirect, associated with this mission?”