With some members of Congress already staging a minor rebellion against President Obama’s decision to attack Libya, House Speaker John A. Boehner on Wednesday blasted the administration for “contradictory” statements and told the president to lay out concrete goals for U.S. action.
Some senior Senate Democrats tried to mount a defense of Mr. Obama’s efforts and said Congress is unlikely to tie the president’s hands or end military action despite the growing discontent on Capitol Hill.
Still, with U.S. forces flying missions over Libya five days into the operation, lawmakers said the number of questions is growing over the chain of command within the international coalition, how far the U.S. is willing to go to unseat Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi and whether the country is prepared for a protracted conflict.
“All of these concerns point to a fundamental question: What is your benchmark for success in Libya?” Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said in a letter to Mr. Obama. He called the president’s decision to attack without seeking full congressional consultation “regrettable.”
Mr. Boehner’s letter doesn’t challenge the president’s military decisions so much as question the job he has done explaining them.
White House officials said they did their best to consult with as many congressional leaders as they could in person or by phone, but also noted conflicting calls from Congress, where some members said Mr. Obama moved too slowly and others said he should have sought approval first.
“What the president did was make a decision based on an imminent threat of a humanitarian nature to a great number of Libyans and he has done that with a great number of consultations with Congress that will continue,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling back from Latin America aboard Air Force One.
The president cut out a sightseeing stop in El Salvador with his family Thursday to return home to oversee the military efforts.
Top members of Congress said the administration hasn’t provided any estimates.
Some question the long-term path for victory, though many say his actions have helped stop Col. Gadhafi’s forces from carrying out mass killings.
“I have considerable concerns about how we got into that and where we’re going, and I think we need greater clarity out of the White House as to what our long-term purpose is,” Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, told MSNBC. “But in the short term, clearly, our actions did stop the retaking of those towns and the likely slaughter of thousands of people. So I think that was the clear short-term objective, even if larger questions still remain.”
Congress‘ official role at this point is limited. Under the 1973 War Powers Act, Mr. Obama can commit troops for weeks before needing approval by Congress. The law includes provisions that allow Congress to challenge the deployment of troops, but the Senate Democrats said they think they can defeat any such efforts.