GOP Senators: Obama’s Libya Bombing Showed ‘Contempt’ for Congress

Fred Lucas | April 4, 2011 | 5:26pm EDT
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Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) (AP Photo)

( – The Senate this week may vote on whether President Barack Obama had the authority to use military force in Libya without approval from Congress.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) accuses Obama of hypocrisy for doing as president what he criticized as a presidential candidate.

Paul has introduced a "sense of the Senate" resolution, which quotes President Obama’s own words as a candidate in 2007, when Obama told The Boston Globe: “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.”

Paul's measure is intended to put the Senate on record in affirming that Congress is the body with Constitutional authority on matters of war.

“The president’s own words are incredibly important here," Paul said. "The hypocrisy is amazing.”

Paul and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) vowed to block legislation Tuesday in attempt to force debate on the president's authority to unilaterally engage in hostilities without congressional authorization. The two senators said the debate should take no more than 30 minutes, and they said it would be a very important affirmation of the constitutional balance of power.

Two weeks ago, Obama ordered military strikes to prevent the government of Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi from continuing the killing of opposition forces in the country. The U.S. joined allies Britain and France in an action authorized by the United Nations Security Council and endorsed by the Arab League.

However, the Obama administration never sought congressional authorization to take the military action, as was the case with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which received bipartisan congressional support. Administration officials argue that they consulted congressional leaders and House and Senate committees before the Libyan action.

“He seems to have had a lot to time to talk to people,” Paul said. “He talked to the Arab League. They had time to get together and vote on it. He talked to the U.N. They had time to get together and vote on it. But he had utter disregard and contempt for the most important body in the United States that represents the people, the U.S. Congress. Utter contempt.”

On Friday, Lee and Paul wrote a letter to Senate leaders expressing their plan to force a vote on the matter Tuesday. Paul added the motion as an amendment to the small business reauthorization bill.

“The Senate has already agreed to move a bill on Tuesday morning,” the letter from Paul and Lee said. “In order to ensure our rights are protected, we will serve notice now that upon completion of H.R. 4, we will object to further votes on amendments to S. 493 until such time as the motion on presidential war authority is scheduled for a vote.”

The letter from the two freshmen senators to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the matter is fundamental and should be voted on.

“While we realize there are other matters the Senate had planned to work on, it is our belief that there is very little we are doing that rises to the level of a constitutional question regarding war,” the letter said.

“Voting for whether or not to send our sons and daughters to war is the most important and most difficult decisions we should ever make as a nation and as senators. We do not take this responsibility lightly, and we believe the Senate is abdicating its responsibility at this very moment,” it added.

“The bombing and military action against the Libyan government will be two weeks old by the time we return to session next week. That means congressional debate on this war is two weeks overdue,” the letter said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen spoke with congressional leaders in briefings and committee hearings about Libya, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney pointed out in late March.

“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.”

The Constitution only gives Congress the authority to declare war.

However, since President Harry Truman sent U.S. troops into Korea, presidents have used the military without congressional authorization in cases where there was not an imminent threat to the United States. President George H.W. Bush’s invasion of Panama and President Bill Clinton’s airstrikes in Kosovo commenced in lieu of congressional actions and no apparent threat.

President Ronald Reagan ordered attacks against Libya and Grenada without congressional approval, but in both cases it was to combat a threat or respond to an attack. Reagan justified the presence of U.S. medical students in Grenada for the attack there, while the bombing in Libya was in retaliation to a Gadhafi-sponsored terrorist bombing of a discothèque that killed and injured several U.S. troops.

President George W. Bush got congressional approval before taking action in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

“All of us recognize that if we were in imminent danger of attack, we’d allow the president some latitude,” Paul said. “But we’d expect very quickly to come to Congress and ask permission. In this instance, even the Secretary of Defense has said that Libya is not in our national interest.”

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