Why Obama Doesn't Need to Ask Congress Before Attacking Libya

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 21 2011 8:06 AM

Why Obama Doesn't Need to Ask Congress Before Attacking Libya

It's simple: Most of Washington doesn't want him to. To coin a phrase: If they want the president to do it, that means it's legal.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Congress's most prominent hawks, who must at this point have a small apartment inside the Fox News Sunday studio, was asked by Chris Wallace if action against Libya needed some sort of congressional approval.

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I don't believe he needs to come to Congress. I'd gladly vote on what he did. I think it's inherent within the authority of the commander-in-chief to take such action. We have been overly cautious, unnervingly indecisive. This thing melted down. I wish we would have acted sooner. I don't feel a need to bless this action before he took it. I'd be glad to vote on it afterwards.

Sen. Jack Reed was there to give the Democratic perspective. What is it? It's the same as the Republican perspective.

The president should notify under War Powers Act, like all his predecessors who'd probably say it doesn't apply. But I think he will know the powers. That gives us the opportunity to review what he's done. Like Lindsey, if there's a proposal coming before the Congress, then I would have no difficulty in supporting the actions to date.

Tim Carney pointed out last week that Obama, as a presidential candidate, had opposed the declaration of war without congressional assent. This is fun to point out but it doesn't influence anything. In the statement John Boehner put out about the attacks, Byron York reported that some Republicans were annoyed with the White House's lack of communication -- but not unhappy with the lack of consultation. "Before any further military commitments are made," said Boehner, "the Administration must do a better job of briefing members of Congress and communicating to the American people about our mission in Libya and how it will be achieved." If he wanted to, Boehner could have put a line in there about a vote in Congress. He didn't. As long as this is a pricey multinational effort to destroy weapons and buildings as a way of aiding Libyan rebels -- as long as it is short -- there is no call from Congress for more oversight.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.