ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
It has been 60 days since President Obama notified Congress that he was ordering U.S. military operations in Libya. According to the War Powers Act of 1973, Congress should have either moved to authorize or opposed continued military action. That's because only Congress has the constitutional power to declare war.
Instead, as NPR's David Welna reports, Congress has yet to take any action on Libya.
DAVID WELNA: All this week at the U.S. Capitol, you could hardly tell Congress was fast approaching the 60-day deadline lawmakers gave themselves 38 years ago for approving a military action initiated by the president. The House was not even in session, and the Senate busied itself blocking energy bills and a circuit court nominee before calling it a week last night.
South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says it's as if lawmakers forgot all about Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
LINDSEY GRAHAM: A resolution by the Senate where we agree with the goal of replacing him and that we should've been involved would make sense to me. But it's not something I'm going to do unilaterally. I'm just really surprised that no one's picked up the challenge here.
WELNA: A group of half a dozen GOP senators did send a letter yesterday to President Obama reminding him the statutory 60-day period for using U.S. forces in Libya without congressional authorization ends today.
One of those senators is John Cornyn of Texas.
JOHN CORNYN: I just think it's an abdication of responsibility on behalf of the Congress on a matter of national security, and we shouldn't. I think it weakens us as an institution, and it also weakens the president's hand in trying to gain the support of the American people whenever he's going to commit U.S. resources and troops into a conflict.
JAMES STEINBERG: The president has been committed from the beginning to act consistent with the War Powers Resolution.
WELNA: That's Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg last week. He assured the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that when it comes to Libya, the Obama administration has not forgotten about Congress.
STEINBERG: We will be looking at our own role and our activities as we move through the next period of time, and again, we'll do this in consultation with you. As we look to what we think we can and can't do, we will be engaged in close consultation with Congress on this issue.
WELNA: Earlier this week, I asked Senator John Kerry, who chairs the foreign relations panel, what he planned to do about today's fast approaching deadline for congressional action on Libya.
JOHN KERRY: We want to make sure we're not stretching anything inappropriate, so we're looking at some language. We're trying to make certain, and hopefully, we'll have a response for you pretty quickly.
WELNA: In the end, nothing got done.
MICKEY EDWARDS: Members of Congress have just failed to meet their constitutional obligations.
WELNA: That's former Oklahoma Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards, now with the legal advocacy group The Constitution Project. Edwards says there's no question the ongoing Libya intervention calls for congressional approval.
EDWARDS: This is something that requires the American people through their Congress to say we believe our national security interests require that we do this and we approve. If the Congress does not approve, it is an unconstitutional reach of power by the president.
WELNA: It's not clear whether Congress will act on Libya next week with both chambers back in session. Under the War Powers Act, the president has another 30 days to wind down a military operation that has not been authorized by Congress.
Some lawmakers question whether the U.S. is even at war in Libya; others seem to prefer steering clear of a potentially messy debate on an issue that divides Republicans and Democrats alike.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.