Congress Reacts To Obama's Speech

Congress reacts to President Obama's speech on Libya. The president defended American military strikes, saying they prevented a potential massacre in Benghazi. But the question remains: What about Moammar Gadhafi?

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On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are responding to President Obama's speech last night about the military action in Libya. The president sidestepped Congress and angered some lawmakers when he ordered U.S. airstrikes against Libya 10 days ago.

NPR's David Welna reports that the president's speech appears to have muted some of the criticism, though not all of it.

DAVID WELNA: Congressional Republicans were divided today over Libya, or more precisely over how President Obama has handled that nation's uprising. Here's Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.

Senator SAXBY CHAMBLISS (Republican, Georgia; Member, Senate Armed Services Committee): After listening to the president last night, after being involved in two White House meetings, I still have to ask the question: What's our plan? Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Member, Senate Armed Services Committee): The decision to intervene militarily in Libya was right and necessary, and I believe that last night, the president made a clear and convincing case for that. The president's action surely averted a mass atrocity in Benghazi.

WELNA: The military intervention in Libya got another key endorsement from the armed services panel's Democratic chairman, Carl Levin.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan; Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee): It has gained momentum and achieved some notable success and so far without any allied casualties. It is a unique moment in history when the international community comes together and acts to stop a tyrant who is massacring his people.

WELNA: Appearing before the committee was the American who commands NATO, Admiral James Stavridis. He expressed confidence that, one way or another, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi will be forced out of power. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin wanted to know how much that might cost.

Senator JOE MANCHIN (Republican, West Virginia; Member, Senate Armed Services Committee): We're going to be making some difficult decisions here, right here in America, and the costs that we're spending elsewhere is real concerning. And I think the first week was approximately 600-plus million dollars.

Admiral JAMES STAVRIDIS (Commander, NATO): Sir, again, I'm probably not the right person to give you a set of numbers, but I think it's fair to say that the operation will be in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars. I think that's a fair estimate.

WELNA: The fact that President Obama took military action as part of a coalition seemed to rankle Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions. He conveyed his displeasure to Admiral Stavridis.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama; Member, Senate Armed Services Committee): You seem to be taking as your command the United Nations and the rules of engagement they have authorized, and we don't have any United States rules of engagement that I've understood with clarity, certainly not from Congress. That's not your fault. I'm just saying, I think that the extent to which Congress has been bypassed in this process is rather breathtaking.

WELNA: Yet for all the second-guessing, no lawmaker today moved to block U.S. action in Libya. That may still happen when Congress approves the next military spending bill. For now, President Obama appears to have bought time in his first military intervention.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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