President Obama is getting blowback from both sides of the aisle for taking military action in Libya without first formally consulting Congress. Debate in Washington heated up even before reports Tuesday that a U.S. warplane, patrolling Libyan air space, had crashed.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), a conservative member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Obama's "unilateral choice" to join a U.N.-backed coalition establishing a no-fly zone "is an affront to our Constitution," The Hill newspaper
reported. The United States, Bartlett said, "does not have a king's army."
Meanwhile, a CBS News poll shows a full 50 percent of Americans approve
of the president's handling of Libya.
Since the intervention started Saturday, U.S. Navy warships have launched Tomahawk missiles at Libyan air defenses, while American warplanes have joined other coalition aircraft in attacking military installations and some Libyan ground troops.
A U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet crashed late Monday near Benghazi, but its two crew members ejected and were rescued, the Washington Post
and NPR said. Military officials said the plane apparently malfunctioned and was not shot down.
In the Senate, Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee and a White House ally on some issues, said Congress should have a full debate on the objectives and costs of the U.S. role in the attacks. And Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, a moderate, said, "This isn't the way the system is supposed to work."
But earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned
pro-intervention lawmakers that setting up a no-fly zone
was a major undertaking that would have to begin with attacks on Moammar Gadhafi's anti-aircraft systems.
Traveling with the president in Santiago, Chile on Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney insisted Obama had consulted personally with congressional leaders on the Libyan situation. And last Saturday, Carney said Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough phoned top lawmakers "to inform them of the imminent action" about to happen. "We take very seriously the need to consult with Congress and we have been doing that," Carney said.
Under the Constitution, only Congress has the power to declare war. But the president, as commander in chief of the armed forces, has authority to take military action in emergencies or in the face of threats to national security. Obama, who was winding up a Latin American trip Tuesday, insists no U.S. ground troops will be deployed and that leadership of the intervention effort will soon be turned over to NATO partners such as Great Britain or France.
For Rep. Dennis Kucinich, that's not enough to justify what the U.S. has done in Libya. The liberal lawmaker called it "an act of war
" and said Congress should be called back from a spring recess to decide whether to continue the military action.
On the website Raw Story
, Kucinich (D-Ohio) went further, calling Obama's move in Libya "an impeachable offense." The president "didn't have congressional authorization; he has gone against the Constitution, and that's got to be said," Kucinich maintained.
Kucinich noted that then-Sen. Obama argued in 2007 that "the president does not have the 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."
Kucinich, who has twice run for president as an anti-war candidate, said he was not actually proposing impeachment proceedings but only "raising the question" as to whether grounds exist. In any event, calls for a president's impeachment -- often coming from the far left or the far right on Capitol Hill -- are not unusual. Kucinich himself sought to initiate an impeachment article against President George W. Bush in 2008, but then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi wouldn't go along with it.