March 18, 2011 -- Does President Obama need Congressional authorization before taking military action against Libya? Is a no-fly zone a good idea? Congressional opinion on those questions has been divided -- and not along the usual party lines.
The vote Thursday by the U.N. Security Council authorized the use of military force to create a no-fly zone in Libya. But what role the United states will play remains unclear.
On one hand, there has been some high-profile Republican opposition to U.S. military involvement in Libya.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed concern about using U.S. military personnel and Sen. Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senator Foreign Relations Committee, came out forcefully against a no-fly zone and said, in any case, the president would need Congressional authorization before imposing one.
"Given the costs of a no-fly zone, the risks that our involvement would escalate, the uncertain reception in the Arab street of any American intervention in an Arab country, the potential for civilian deaths, the unpredictability of the endgame, the strains on our military, and other factors, it is doubtful that U.S. interests would be served by imposing a no-fly zone over Libya," Lugar said at a hearing yesterday.
An unsigned memo distributed to Republican aides on the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee makes the case that Congressional authorization is necessary before taking military action against Libya and uses Barack Obama's own words to make the case.
The memo quotes Obama when he was in the Senate and there were concerns that then-President George W. Bush would take strike Iran.
"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," the memo quotes then-Senator Obama saying on Dec. 20, 2007.
As for McConnell, this is what he said on CBS on March 6: "I'm not sure it's in our vital interest for him [Gadhafi] to go, but I think we certainly ought to look for ways to be helpful to those who are seeking to overthrow dictators, certainly short of sending in our own military personnel."
On the other side, several prominent Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, have been pushing for U.S. military action for at least two weeks. Yesterday freshman Republican Marco Rubio of Florida weighed in, hammering Undersecretary of State William Burns for what he called the administration's "puzzling inaction" on Libya, suggesting the administration should have used military action against Gadhafi weeks ago. Neither McCain nor Rubio have publicly suggested the president would need Congressional authorization.
Among House Republicans, little has been said about Libya.
I asked Speaker of the House John Boehner's spokesman if he believes the president would need Congressional authorization before using force and was told, "We are looking into that right now." But neither Boehner, nor other House Republicans leaders, have said much about the president's handling of the situation or whether Congressional authorization would be needed.
Democrats, for the most part, have not been urging military action against Libya, but, will likely support Obama – with or without Congressional authorization.