A bipartisan group of House lawmakers went to court Wednesday to try to stop President Obama’s troop deployment to Libya, saying it violates the law, but the White House submitted a report to Congress arguing that it is adhering to the War Powers Resolution because it is not actually engaged in “hostilities.”
“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,” the administration said in a 32-page public report, which was sent to Congress along with a classified annex describing in more detail the rebels the U.S. is aiding.
In an accompanying letter to Congress, Mr. Obama said the U.S. is supporting a NATO coalition that is maintaining a no-fly zone over the country to give rebels there room for opportunity, though he said with the exception of a rescue mission in March, no American ground forces have been deployed to Libya.
Still, he acknowledged that U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles are striking targets in Libya, and a senior administration official briefing reporters said American warplanes are still flying sorties and can respond if fired upon.
Those actions would seem to test the limits of what is considered hostile action under the 1973 War Powers Resolution.
The 32-page report also gives a detailed look at spending on the conflict. Military spending totaled $715.9 million through June 3, of which more than half of that total is expended munitions. By Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, that will have grown to $1.1 billion, with an additional $50 million spent on munitions over the final four months.
Obama administration officials said those funds are being shifted from within the Defense Department, and it doesn’t see a need to request emergency funds from Congress. Such a request likely would precipitate a major fight on Capitol Hill over whether the president should be allowed to continue the mission.
The State Department has spent an additional $3.7 million, and the government has committed nearly $81 million more toward humanitarian assistance.
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, called the justification “creative” and said Mr. Obama still needs to articulate how the mission in Libya is central to national security goals.
“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,” Mr. Buck said.
In his letter to Congress, Mr. Obama gave a full update on U.S. troops who have been committed around the world, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Kosovo and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as Libya.
Administration officials said they are not contesting the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution, which places limits on the president’s ability to commit U.S. troops to fighting.
But Congress may see it differently.
On Tuesday, Mr. Boehner wrote a letter to Mr. Obama saying if he doesn’t withdraw troops or get Congress’ approval by Sunday, he could run afoul of the 1973 War Powers Resolution. Earlier this month, the House passed a resolution setting a Friday deadline for the administration to provide detailed information on the extent and goals of its Libyan operations.
The White House responded Wednesday with its report that said the U.S. was acting in accord with U.N. authority.
Mr. Obama approved U.S. strikes on Libya in March while on a trip to Latin America, saying Libyan regime leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi had threatened to show “no mercy” to those supporting the rebellion in the country’s east.
The strikes began March 19. Two days later, the president sent Congress notification of the action in compliance with that part of the War Powers Resolution. Since then, the administration says, it has conducted at least 30 briefings for congressional members and staff.
The White House said that fulfills a duty to consult with Congress, but lawmakers insist the War Powers Resolution requires more — an affirmative vote if the president wants to commit to military action for an extended period.
“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 his letter to the president.
Sunday would be the 90th day since the U.S. first took action in Libya.
The House this month passed a resolution that contained a veiled threat to cut off funding for the operation unless Mr. Obama provided extensive information.
U.S. voters hold conflicted views on U.S. involvement. A Fox News poll taken last week found Americans oppose the mission by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, and substantial majorities said Mr. Obama had not articulated a cogent reason for U.S. involvement.
Still, other polls show a majority of voters are comfortable with what the U.S. military is doing in Libya, yet want the coalition to specifically target Col. Gadhafi.
Some members of Congress went to court Wednesday to try to force an end to U.S. action.
Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat who has carved out extensive anti-war credentials, led a group of two other Democrats and seven Republicans in the House in suing in federal court.
They are asking for an injunction to halt U.S. involvement in NATO’s operations and want the court to weigh in on the broader issue of whether the president needs proactive congressional authorization to commit military forces.
“We believe that the law was violated. We have asked the courts to move to protect the American people from the results of these illegal policies,” Mr. Kucinich said.
The complaint names Mr. Obama and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
On Tuesday, Mr. Kucinich fired off a letter asking the U.N. and the International Criminal Court to look into whether NATO’s bombing campaign has broken international law.
The letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the international court’s prosecutor, Luis Loreno-Ocampo, said NATO’s actions in Libya and Afghanistan have gone beyond U.N. mandates and have led to civilian deaths.
“It is imperative that NATO and its commanders are held directly accountable under international criminal statutes for actions which place the lives of innocent civilians at risk,” he wrote.