WASHINGTON – Facing growing opposition on Capitol Hill, the White House insisted Wednesday that it’s within its legal rights to wage war in Libya without explicit authorization from Congress, essentially because no American lives are at risk.
The administration argued that its limited role in the allied air campaign against Libya means it’s not really the kind of escalating war that would require approval from Congress or an end to fighting after 60 days under the War Powers Resolution, passed in 1973 in response to the Vietnam War.
Even before the White House could send its arguments to Capitol Hill, 10 members of the House of Representatives – conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats – filed suit in U.S. District Court Wednesday challenging President Barack Obama’s right to wage the war, even in a supporting role.
“We believe the law was violated,” said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, one of the effort’s leaders. “We have asked the courts to protect the American people from the results of these illegal policies.”
In a 32-page report to Congress, the White House laid out its argument.
“U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors,” the White House said.
The White House report also said the U.S. has spent $716 million through June 3 on bombs and other supplies since helping launch the allied air campaign on March 19, a cost expected to rise to $1.1 billion by Sept. 30. Aides said the money would come from other appropriated funds and would not require a new appropriation from Congress this year.
It was unclear how the memo would affect the debate in Congress.
“The creative arguments made by the White House raise a number of questions that must be further explored,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
“Regardless, the commander in chief has a responsibility to articulate how U.S. military action is vital to our national security and consistent with American policy goals. With Libya, the president has fallen short on this obligation. We will review the information that was provided today, but hope and expect that this will serve as the beginning, not the end, of the president’s explanation for continued American operations in Libya.”
In addition to Kucinich, House members filing the suit included Reps. Walter Jones, R-N.C., Howard Coble, R-N.C., John Duncan, R-Tenn., Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., John Conyers, D-Mich., Ron Paul, R-Texas, Michael Capuano, D-Mass., Tim Johnson, R-Ill., and Dan Burton, R-Ind.
Todd Gaziano, director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, noted that similar lawsuits during the Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton presidencies were dismissed by the same court, and that the court is bound by those precedents. A key reason, he said, is that Congress already has the power to stop financing military action.