The White House Pushes Back on Claims of Fraying Coalition and Constitutional Overreach

Mar 22, 2011 8:34am

The White House pushed back Tuesday against suggestions that the international coalition supporting Operation Odyssey Dawn is fraying, and that the White House didn’t adequately consult with Congress before launching attacks against the Libyan government on Saturday.

Amidst reports of potential partners such as Norway and the UAE hesitating or pulling back from contributing military assets to the effort, a senior White House official told ABC News that “on any given day of a complex situation there will be different data points,, but the fact is we have effectively destroyed Gadhafi's air defenses, he has pulled back from Benghazi, and the coalition continues to grow.”

The official also said that on Monday “allies flew more missions than the U.S. for the first time.” The government of Qatar is “moving in a positive direction,” the official said, with the Canadians, Spanish, Italians and Danes committing to join.”

On Capitol Hill, both Democrats and Republicans seemed concerned about what they described as a lack of adequate consultation with the White House. Numerous Democrats and Republicans contacted by ABC News expressed frustration with the process. On a conference call for liberal House Democrats over the weekend, one Democratic congressman quoted then-Sen. Obama talking about the need for Congress to approve military action. (Mr. Obama told the Boston Globe in 2007, “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.”)

“I agree with candidate Obama,” the House Democrat said, according to his colleague.

But the White House argued that this kind of limited mission falls within the President’s constitutional authority. On Monday in Chile, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said “President Clinton pursued the intervention in Bosnia under quite similar circumstances.  He did not have a congressional authorization but he did provide a letter, consistent with the War Powers Act.  In that instance, for instance, in two weeks you had over 2,000 sorties flown by the United States.” 

“Last week some critics on Capitol Hill were complaining we were going too slow,” said a second senior White House official. “Now they’re complaining we’re moving too fast.”

Rhodes suggested such complaints were without merit. “There were a set of hearings over a period of time leading into the decision that we made,” Rhodes said. “On March 1st, the Senate passed a resolution that condemned the gross and systematic violations of human rights in Libya, including the attacks on protesters, and urging the United Nations to take action to protect civilians.”

Rhodes noted that last Friday, congressional leaders met with the President on the matter, last Thursday the administration invited all members of Congress were invited to a briefing on Libya led by Under Secretary of State Bill Burns, “who walked through in great detail on March 17th what it was we were pursuing at the United Nations and the nature of the resolution and its enforcement.” Moreover, Rhodes said, “after the congressional leadership was consulted by the President, the appropriate oversight committees — again, State Department, Defense, intelligence community — were briefed by the officials of those agencies.”

-Jake Tapper

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