Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Some Congressmen Say Obama Administration in Violation of War Powers Act

May 25, 2011

Libya Effort Is Called Violation of War Act

New York Times

WASHINGTON — Several lawmakers from both parties on Wednesday accused President Obama of violating the War Powers Resolution by continuing American participation in NATO’s air war in Libya without Congressional authorization, but they struggled with the question of what Congress can or should do about it.

At a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, several members attacked Mr. Obama for failing to withdraw United States military forces from conflict after the expiration of a 60-day deadline for hostilities that have not been approved by Congress. The Libyan operation reached that deadline, which was imposed by the war powers law of the Vietnam era, on Friday.

“The president is not a king, and he shouldn’t act like a king,” said Representative Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana. Representative Brad Sherman, Democrat of California, said the administration was treating lawmakers as “irrelevant” by failing to acknowledge that the deadline had passed or to explain itself.

“It’s time for Congress to step forward,” said Mr. Sherman. “It’s time to stop shredding the U.S. Constitution in a presumed effort to bring democracy and constitutional rule of law to Libya.”

Still, he added that he thought Congress should probably approve continuing the Libyan operation.

The Obama administration has said it believes it is acting consistently with the resolution, although it has not explained why it thinks so.

Congress enacted the War Powers Resolution in 1973, overriding President Richard M. Nixon’s veto, in an effort to restore its eroding role in deciding whether the country becomes involved in significant armed conflicts.

Since then, many presidents, citing their power as commander in chief, have bypassed a section that says they need prior Congressional authorization to deploy forces into hostilities, except if the country is under attack.

But there is far less precedent of presidents’ challenging another section that says they must terminate any still-unauthorized operations after 60 days. In 1980, the Justice Department concluded that the deadline was constitutional.

Among those critical of the administration’s move, there was no clear consensus on how to react. Representative Chris Gibson, Republican of New York, proposed an overhaul of the war powers act that would prohibit presidents from using money to deploy the military into hostilities without prior permission from Congress, except in the case of an imminent attack on the United States or Israel or because of a treaty obligation.

Representative Justin Amash, Republican of Michigan, proposed cutting off money for the Libya operation unless lawmakers authorized it.

Several other lawmakers spoke favorably of a proposal introduced this week by Senators John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and John McCain, Republican of Arizona, that would in effect end the debate by expressing legislative support for the Libyan operation.

Still others voiced uncertainty about whether Mr. Obama was exceeding his legal authority in Libya, noting that many presidents in recent generations have initiated hostilities without prior authorization, and that Congress had not stood up to them.

“There are no black-and-white answers here,” said Representative Howard L. Berman of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee. He also suggested that whether the 60-day deadline had elapsed might turn on the details of the United States’ current contribution to the NATO campaign.

“Could one argue that periodic drone strikes do not constitute introducing forces into hostilities since the strikes are infrequent” and “there are no boots on the ground?” Mr. Berman asked.

The Obama administration has described the American contribution as limited — supporting NATO allies, along with the intermittent use of drones to fire missiles at ground targets. Still, speaking in London earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton portrayed the American contribution in robust terms.

“Even today, the United States continues to fly 25 percent of all sorties,” Mrs. Clinton said. “We continue to provide the majority of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets.”

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