Stepping up a simmering constitutional conflict, House Speaker John A. Boehner warned President Obama on Tuesday that unless he gets authorization from Congress for his military deployment in Libya, he will be in violation of the War Powers Resolution.
In a letter sent Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Boehner, the top Republican in the constitutional chain of succession, said Mr. Obama must provide a clear justification by Friday for committing troops to Libya.
Sunday marks the 90th day since the president notified Congress that U.S. troops had been committed to help enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, which is designed to protect the rebels fighting Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s government.
“The Constitution requires the president to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed,’ and one of those laws is the War Powers Resolution, which requires an approving action by Congress or withdrawal within 90 days from the notification of a military operation,” Mr. Boehner said in the letter.
The White House has repeatedly said it has complied with the law by alerting Congress to the initial deployment, and by testifying at more than 10 hearings and providing 30 follow-up briefings about the pace and extent of U.S. troops’ commitment.
But the administration has never sought approval from Congress.
“We are in the final stages of preparing extensive information for the House and Senate that will address a whole host of issues about our ongoing efforts in Libya,” White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said Tuesday evening, adding that the administration also will present its legal analysis of the War Powers Resolution.
The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, but makes the president commander-in-chief. Those dual roles have caused tension throughout the nation’s history.
Two weeks ago, the House passed a nonbinding resolution that urged Mr. Obama to provide detailed information on the deployment. Mr. Boehner at the time signaled that Congress might cut off funding for the deployment in Libya if the administration didn’t comply.
That resolution gave Mr. Obama 14 days to comply, and the time runs out on Friday.
White House press secretary Jay Carney called the resolution “unhelpful,” but later said the administration will try to provide information the lawmakers are seeking.
The House turned back an even more strident resolution offered by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, that would have demanded troop withdrawal. But between the two resolutions, roughly three-quarters of the House [-] including nearly half of all Democrats [-] went on record challenging Mr. Obama’s handling of the war.
House lawmakers are getting itchy fingers as they look for ways to rein in the president.
On Monday, they voted 248-163 to amend a veterans funding bill to stop any of the money in that measure from going to Libya operations. A similar amendment on the homeland security spending bill failed two weeks ago.
U.S. forces initially took the lead in establishing the no-fly zone, with Mr. Obama saying he felt compelled to act because Col. Gadhafi had threatened to show “no mercy” on his own citizens who were rebelling.
American forces eventually changed over to a support role, and NATO is now running the operation.
U.S. voters hold conflicted views on the military operation.
A Fox News poll taken last week found Americans opposing the mission by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio, and substantial majorities said Mr. Obama has not articulated a cogent reason for U.S. involvement.
Still, other polls show voters are comfortable with the extent of U.S. military involvement now, yet want to see the coalition specifically target Col. Gadhafi.
In Libya, NATO warplanes struck at Tripoli, the capital, late Tuesday, while the rebels’ diplomatic successes continued.
Canada officially recognized the rebel National Transitional Council as the legitimate government of Libya, becoming the 14th country to do so. The U.S. has not taken that step, though it has suspended diplomatic relations with Col. Gadhafi’s government.
While the House is moving toward a showdown with Mr. Obama, a bipartisan group of senators is seeking to bolster the president’s military mission by granting him official approval.
Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, is working on a resolution with Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, that also would require more extensive reporting and consultation with Capitol Hill.
Mr. McCain warned against undercutting Mr. Obama at what could be a critical time in the push to oust Col. Gadhafi.
“Let’s be very careful that the Congress does not say something unintentionally that would encourage Gadhafi to believe that somehow we have lost our commitment to him leaving office,” he said.
The resolution is due to be considered in the Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday.