Congress Awaits Answers On U.S Mission In Libya

Rebel forces in Libya are continuing their march towards Sirte, a stronghold of Moammar Gadhafi. That's after regaining control of two oil towns over the weekend. President Obama is expected to address the situation in a speech tonight. He's been pressed by both parties in Congress for clarity on U.S objectives in Libya and the scope of the military campaign. Host Michel Martin discusses the political implications of America's role in Libya with the highest ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, California Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. My thanks to Farai Chideya and Jacki Lyden for sitting in while I was away last week.

Later in the program, we will heard to Miami were seven African-American men have been shot and killed by the police in the past eight months. Miami's police chief says that the shootings are the unfortunate result of stepped up efforts to curb gang activity and drug crime, but some city leaders say that that level of police-involved violence is just excessive and chief needs to go.

We will hear from Miami police chief, Miguel Exposito, and one of the area's congressional representatives later in the program.

But first, we go - we talk about violence overseas. In Libya, where over the weekend rebel forces regained two oil refineries and advanced towards Surt, a stronghold of longtime Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

Explosions have also been reported in the capital, Tripoli. It's been just over a week since the U.S. led an international coalition enforcing a no-fly zone in that country. In the U.S., both parties have pressed President Obama for clarity on the scope of the campaign, and on U.S. objectives in Libya. And President Obama is scheduled to address the country tonight.

But here's Republican Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sunday's "Meet the Press."

Senator RICHARD LUGAR (Republican, Indiana): I think there should have been a plan for what our objectives were, a debate as to why this was in our vital interest before we committed military forces to Libya.

MARTIN: In a few minutes, we'll hear insight from a former diplomat in the administration of Mr. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush. She's a specialist in Africa.

But first, Congresswoman, Loretta Sanchez. She is a Democrat, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, now serving her eighth term in Congress. She represents California's 47th district, which includes Anaheim and Garden Grove, and she's with us on the line from Southern California. Welcome back. Thank you so much for joining us once again.

Representative LORETTA SANCHEZ (Democrat, California): Thank you, Michel. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Now, as you've heard, and I'm sure you know, House Speaker Boehner, a number of people have been saying that there should have been more debate, more inclusion of Congress in the decision before U.S. forces were committed. Do you share that criticism?

Rep. SANCHEZ: Well, of course. I'm a member of Congress. The Congress always believes in the Constitution, and we try to work with that document. And, you know, it's pretty straightforward that the Congress is the one that decides things with respect to war.

Having said all of that, of course, you have to look at the tight time frame in which the fly zone was considered, especially trying to get a coalition behind it. We were in some ways almost pushed into it because the African Union and the Europeans went ahead of us on record, culminating in a U.N. resolution and right away, you know, a need to go in and take care of business.

And so, that tight time frame was a difficult one to be dealing with in Congress. So some in Congress would scream if we had done that - if the President had brought it to Congress, let's say, on that Thursday when he got the U.N. resolution. If he had asked the Congress to stay, then he would have had people throwing up their arms saying we've got trips to go on, we've got schedules back at home. We can't possibly be, you know, in Washington, you're messing with us.

And so, you know, you have that side of it, and then you have the other side, of course, where the president decided to go in, and those who believe that it's the Congress's decision to do that. So I can see both sides of the story. I'll wait to get back to Congress today and see what some of my other colleagues decide to do about this.

MARTIN: Do you feel you understand the U.S. mission there even though as we, I think, most people know that NATO is now scheduled to leave this. But do you understand why - what the U.S. role is?

Rep. SANCHEZ: Certainly. I had the opportunity on Thursday morning to have our NATO supreme commander and European commander, he carries both titles as well as several others, our admiral, come in to see me on Thursday morning talking about if the U.N. resolution come out, the fact he was flying back that day to go and take care of business, and had already set the plans to go in with our allies and to decide who would be doing what if that can be said in that way.

So, you know, we knew it was coming. It's just very unfortunate that the time frame, I mean, some think we waited too long, you know. There were people killed, and Gadhafi got the upper hand, and it looked like that's the way it was going and that's why you saw such an impetus to get in.

MARTIN: And, congresswoman, it sounds in a way that you were ambivalent. Is there something that you expect or hope to hear from the president tonight that will influence your thinking?

Rep. SANCHEZ: Well, I certainly would like to know what he was thinking, why he didn't call up the speaker and say, please keep Congress in, I need to go before them and talk to them. Or I know that he met with maybe four or five members of Congress, the leadership. But, you know, the Congress is the entire body, and the decision of an attack of that type, which is really a declaration of war, is really the prerogative of the Congress.

And so, I'd like to hear his thinking behind it. I think the nation has to hear the thinking. But, you know, the American people's sentiment is with the president. They never appreciate it when they see a dictator totalitarian type of government killing its own people.

So from that standpoint, I think, the sympathies of the American people are definitely with his decision.

MARTIN: Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. She represents Anaheim and Garden Grove in California's 47th District. She was kind enough to join us from her home office. Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us once again.

Rep. SANCHEZ: Thank you, Michel.

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