Lawmakers Want Their Say On U.S. Role In Libya While some lawmakers support the president's decision to use military force, others — both Democrats and Republicans — are questioning the wisdom of getting involved in another armed conflict. And some question the president's authority to take such action without the consent of Congress.
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Lawmakers Want Their Say On U.S. Role In Libya

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Lawmakers Want Their Say On U.S. Role In Libya

Lawmakers Want Their Say On U.S. Role In Libya

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President Obama's decision to use military force in Libya has the strong support of some members of Congress. Others, both Democrats and Republicans, are questioning the wisdom of this move. And some are also questioning the president's authority. NPR's David Welna has this report.

DAVID WELNA: Most members of Congress had already left town for a 10 day recess when President Obama announced late last week he was ready to use military force in Libya. That's made it harder to gauge the impact on Capitol Hill of the military action that ensued. The Constitution does reserve for Congress the power to declare war, so some lawmakers, such as California House Democrat Brad Sherman, are unsure whether they approve President Obama's use of force in Libya.

Representative BRAD SHERMAN (Democrat, California): I think what he's doing is within the range of reason, but I'm not ready to say yes until I get the additional information. And I'm not sure I'm going to get it.

WELNA: Another House Democrat, Massachusetts' Stephen Lynch, told CNN yesterday he feared the U.S. stance on Libya opens the door to other foreign interventions.

Representative STEPHEN LYNCH (Democrat, Massachusetts): If the threat to civilian populations is going to be our new litmus test for military intervention, then we're going to be very active around the globe, I'm afraid.

WELNA: Lynch and others want to know whatever happened to a meaningful participation by Congress in the decision to use military force. Here's Virginia Democratic Senator Jim Webb yesterday on MSNBC.

Senator JIM WEBB (Democrat, Virginia): We have not had a debate. And I know that there was, you know, some justification put into place because of concern for civilian casualties. But this isn't the way that our system is supposed to work.

WELNA: President Obama agreed on that point when he was still a presidential candidate. Here's what he told the Boston Globe in 2007. Quote: "The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."

Lewis Fisher thinks the president had it right back then. Fisher is an expert on war powers who frequently testified on Capitol Hill during four decades with the Library of Congress.

Mr. LEWIS FISHER (Scholar in Residence, Constitution Project): Constitutionally he needs an authorization from Congress. And it's not enough to meet with a few leaders and talk to them, some sort of consultation. That's not - has no legal basis at all.

WELNA: President Obama did, in fact, meet with half a dozen congressional leaders two hours before announcing his decision on Libya last Friday. Richard Lugar, who's the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, attended that briefing. Congress, he says, has not been able to have its say.

Senator RICHARD LUGAR (Republican, Indiana): This is not a concerted debate in the Congress on an act of war, a declaration of war. If we're going to war with Libya, we need to declare that. People need to be on record in the Senate and the House, because this could be quite a long and extended situation.

WELNA: Is the U.S. at war with Libya?

Sen. LUGAR: I have no idea. In a technical sense it would be hard to say that you can fire 110 Tomahawk missiles at Libyan installations, even though this is supposed to be a humanitarian act to help civilians, without saying this is a military action. It came from U.S. warships.

WELNA: Asked what Congress should do now that military action's already underway, Lugar says it should debate President Obama's objectives in Libya. But first, he adds, lawmakers need to know what those objectives are and how the president plans to achieve them.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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