Washington: Pushing back against congressional criticism, the White House said on Wednesday that President Barack Obama has the authority to continue US military action in Libya even without authorization from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
In a detailed, 30-page report being sent to Congress, the administration argues that the US has a limited, supporting role in the NATO-led bombing campaign in Libya. Because US forces are not engaged in sustained fighting and there are no troops on the ground there, the White House says the president is within his constitutional rights to direct the mission on his own.
The administration's defense of the Libya mission comes in response to a non-binding House resolution passed earlier this month that chastised Obama for failing to provide a "compelling rationale" for US involvement in Libya.
The resolution gave the administration until on Friday to respond to a series of questions on the mission, including the scope of US military activity, the cost of the mission, and its impact on other US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It remained to be seen whether the administration's reasoning would be enough to quell congressional criticism. House and Senate leaders grew frustrated Wednesday when the White House briefed reporters on the report well before sending it to Congress.
Obama did not seek congressional consent before ordering US airstrikes against Moammar Gadhafi's forces nearly three months ago. Despite that, the White House has maintained that the president is not in violation of the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which prohibits the military from being involved in actions for more than 60 days without congressional authorization, plus a 30-day extension.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, sent Obama a letter this week stating that the 90-day window runs out on Sunday.
However, senior administration officials previewing the report Wednesday said US forces are not involved in the kind of "hostilities" for which the War Powers Resolution says the commander in chief must get congressional approval.
While the US led the initial airstrikes on Libya, NATO forces have since taken over the mission, which is in its third month. The US still plays a significant support role that includes aerial refueling of warplanes and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance work.
The White House and Capitol Hill have been at odds throughout much of the three-month campaign over whether the administration has fully consulted Congress on the mission. Congressional leaders and key committee members were only summoned to the White House the day before Obama ordered air strikes against Gadhafi's forces. Several lawmakers attended in person, others by phone as Congress had just begun a weeklong break.
Obama aides insist they have briefed Congress extensively throughout, citing more than 30 briefings with lawmakers and their staff, and 10 hearings where administration officials have testified on Libya.
The White House has called the House resolution chiding Obama, as well as a similar resolution in the Senate, unhelpful and unnecessary. The administration much prefers a resolution sponsored by Sens John Kerry, D-Mass, and John McCain, R-Ariz., that would signal support for the Libya operation.
However, the fate of that measure is in limbo as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee delayed plans to discuss so lawmakers could review the House report.
A bipartisan group of 10 lawmakers also sued Obama on Wednesday for taking military action against Libya without war authorization from Congress. The lawmakers said Obama violated the Constitution in bypassing Congress and using international organizations like the United Nations and NATO to authorize military force.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Wednesday that the president expects congressional support for the Libya campaign will continue. With Gadhafi under pressure to leave power, he said now is not the time to send "mixed messages" about US commitment to the campaign.