(CNSNews.com) - "Was there any consideration before you sent this aircraft carrier out to the Gulf of Aden to send a War Powers Act request up to Congress?" a reporter asked the White House press secretary on Tuesday.
"I don't believe so," spokesman Josh Earnest replied. "But if -- let me check with the lawyers on that before I -- before I completely rule that out. My suspicion is that, based on the fact that there are -- is already a military presence there, that a War Powers Act would -- or notification would be unnecessary."
Earnest said he "may not have done justice to the full legal explanation," and he told the reporter he would follow up on the question.
The 1973 War Powers Act limits the president to a unilateral military commitment of no more than 60 days before he must request congressional authorization. However, President Obama did not seek congressional authorization for U.S. military involvement in the Libya's civil war in 2011. He said the U.S. was acting as part of a "broad coalition" that was enforcing a U.N. Security Council resolution.
At Tuesday's press briefing, Earnest noted that the U.S. has had a military presence near Yemen for some time, and the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is simply augmenting that presence.
Earnest said multiple times that the "the principal purpose" of the U.S. military deployment "is to protect the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce, both in the Gulf of Aden and in the Red Sea."
But he also noted that the U.N. Security Council last week imposed an arms embargo on Houthi leaders: "And, you know, any effort by Iran or anyone else to provide weapons to the Houthis would be a clear violation, not just of this United Nations Security Council resolution, but of previous U.N. Security Council resolutions related to Iranian weapons shipments."
Earnest refused to "speculate" on whether the U.S. would feel free to board Iranian-flagged vessels to intercept weapons destined for the Houthis.
But reporters continued to press him: "I realize you don't want to speculate about a future possible confrontation or incident or whatever, but you must have existing rules on the books now for how you're going to treat those," a reporter said.
"I'm sure that there are," Earnest replied. "And so for detailed questions about the rules of engagement, I'd refer you to the Department of Defense. But I would say as a general matter that we have been concerned about Iranian support and weapons shipments to the Houthis. And we are...when I say 'we,' I mean the international community -- is serious about the strict enforcement of a United Nations Security Council resolution that has placed an embargo of weapons shipments to the Houthis."
Another reporter asked if the Roosevelt will be used to enforce the U.N. arms embargo.
"The specific mandate and the specific mission of the Roosevelt is to ensure the free flow of commerce and the freedom of navigation in this region of the world," Earnest repeated.
"That is their specific mandate. But we continue to be mindful of the destabilizing activities that Iran is engaged in in terms of supporting the Houthis, and in some cases, even supplying them weapons. And the United States is serious in standing shoulder to shoulder with the international community when it comes to the specific arms embargo that's been put in place by the U.N."
Earnest conceded that a "specific arms shipment from the Iranians intended for the Houthis would be a pretty clear violation of the United Nations Security Council embargo. No doubt about that," he said.
But again, he refused to "speculate on any sort of future activities."
"What's the purpose of passing that U.N. Security Council resolution if you're not going to actually enforce it militarily?" a reporter asked Earnest.
"The international community is resolute in ensuring that that arms embargo is enforced," Earnest said again. "And it's true, I think, as I -- as I acknowledged earlier, that if Iran or anyone else were to try to provide arms to the Houthis, it would be in direct violation of that United Nations Security Council resolution."
He refused to get any more specific than that.