Facing criticism from Congress that authority for U.S. military action in Libya is about to expire under the War Powers Act, President Obama asked congressional leaders late Friday for a resolution of support for continuing the military involvement.
“It has always been my view that it is better to take military action, even in limited actions such as this, with congressional engagement, consultation and support,” Obama wrote in a letter to the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate. “Congressional action in support of the mission would underline the U.S. commitment to this remarkable international effort.”…
From the political left, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has said he would seek to put a resolution before the House next week “to force a vote on our adventure in Libya and to attempt to bring Congress to a realization of the serious erosion of constitutional authority.”
Needless to say, no, it hasn’t “always” been his view that military action is better with congressional engagement. If that were true, Hillary wouldn’t have told Congress to get bent at the beginning of the mission when War Powers concerns were first raised. It is, however, a smart play for him to bless the idea of a resolution now. After all, had he not sent this letter, he would have been in a bad spot if Kucinich somehow managed to force a floor vote. To see why, read this withering op-ed by law profs Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway from a few days ago comparing him — unfavorably — to the dreaded Bushitler in his contempt for Congress in matters of war. Sample quote: “If nothing happens, history will say that the War Powers Act was condemned to a quiet death by a president who had solemnly pledged, on the campaign trail, to put an end to indiscriminate warmaking.” Each day that passed with O failing to seek authorization of the mission would have fed that narrative, and any thwarted attempts by Kucinich or Rand Paul or whoever else to get Congress to take it up while Obama stood silent would have fed it twice over.
So today, at long last, Obama finally checked the box: Now that he’s on record as pretending that he reeeeeally wants a congressional vote on this, the onus is completely on Reid and Boehner to deal with it. Which, of course, they don’t want to do; the Libya mission is way too open-ended and ancillary to U.S. security interests for the average congresscritter to want to firmly commit to it or against it. For all the attention devoted online to Obama’s power grab in this case, it’s just as much a story about Congress’s gutless cession of power in refusing to take this matter up on its own initiative. In fact, at last check, even people like Kerry and McCain who are willing to vote on a resolution might not make it a full-blown official authorization of the mission under the War Powers Act. They might do something lesser, like a “statement of support” for the mission that leaves them a bit of wiggle room if things go to hell in Libya and then suddenly they have to pretend like they never really said they supported it. They’re such babies.
And by the way, note that in O’s letter he never says that he needs Congress’s support, just that it’s always better to have it. He’s still a skeptic of the War Powers Act, in other words; he simply doesn’t want a legal battle over it if he can help it, since that would mean bad press for months. His new argument for why the WPA (still) doesn’t apply to the Libya mission is that we’re merely “supporting” NATO and military action is “intermittent,” so the 60-day clock isn’t really running right now. What happens if we move back into a more proactive role military and the fighting becomes less intermittent? Only The One’s legal team knows. In lieu of an exit question, I’ll leave you with this parting though: Imagine what the media coverage of this episode would have looked like under Bush.