WASHINGTON –- President Barack Obama spoke passionately in 2007 about the need for Congress to challenge the Bush administration over violating the War Powers Act -- the very charge he is now facing from lawmakers in both parties over U.S. military involvement in Libya.
Back when Obama was a senator, he talked tough on the need for Congress to find "a backbone" and keep then-President George W. Bush in check regarding the legality of the Iraq War.
"We thought we learned this lesson," Obama said during remarks at DePaul University in October 2007.
"After Vietnam, Congress swore it would never again be duped into war, and even wrote a new law -- the War Powers Act -- to ensure it would not repeat its mistakes. But no law can force a Congress to stand up to the president. No law can make senators read the intelligence that showed the president was overstating the case for war. No law can give Congress a backbone if it refuses to stand up as the co-equal branch the Constitution made it."
Those sentiments are now being played out by some of Obama's biggest critics on Libya.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) announced Wednesday that they are suing Obama in federal court over the constitutionality of leading the U.S. into war with Libya without seeking Congressional approval. Specifically, their lawsuit challenges the executive branch’s circumvention of Congress and its use of international organizations -- namely, the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization -- to authorize the use of military force abroad.
"With regard to the war in Libya, we believe that the law was violated," Kucinich said in a statement. "We have asked the courts to move to protect the American people from the results of these illegal policies."
The lawsuit is signed by a bipartisan mix of lawmakers, including Reps. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), John Duncan (R-Tenn.), Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Ron Paul (R-Texas), Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), Tim Johnson (R-Ill.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.). Of note: Paul is one of Obama's GOP challengers for the presidency in 2012.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) also warned Obama Tuesday that he may be in violation of the War Powers Act by Sunday if he doesn't seek congressional authorization to continue operations in Libya. Sunday will mark 90 days since U.S. forces first struck Libyan targets as part of the NATO-led effort to take out leader Muammar Gaddafi.
According to the War Powers resolution, a president who commits troops to war must explain the legal reasoning for doing so within 60 days. That period can be extended to 90 days if the president requests more time from Congress, which Obama did not do. By the 90-day mark, the president is required to obtain congressional approval for action. To date, Obama has not sought such approval and maintains it is not necessary given that military action is expected to be limited in scope and duration.
"Since the mission began, the administration has provided tactical operational briefings to the House of Representatives, but the White House has systematically avoided requesting a formal authorization for its action," Boehner said in a letter to Obama.
"Therefore, it would appear that in five days, the administration will be in violation of the War Powers Resolution unless it asks for and receives authorization from Congress or withdraws all U.S. troops and resources from the mission."
In his letter, the Speaker proposes the White House has made one of two determinations on Libya: "Either you have concluded the War Powers Resolution does not apply to the mission in Libya, or you have determined the War Powers Resolution is contrary to the Constitution."
Boehner wasn't always so critical of Obama over Libya -- in fact, Politico reported that he said the president was "technically" in compliance with the War Powers Act earlier this month.
“There are a lot of questions that remain out there, and frankly I think members on both sides of the aisle are looking for answers about this, and they’re looking for some clarity,” he told reporters. “Legally, they’ve met their requirements [under] the War Powers Act.”
An administration official told The Huffington Post on Wednesday that the White House is preparing to send Congress extensive documentation “sometime today” that makes the case for involvement in Libya without Congressional approval. It remains to be seen if lawmakers will agree those documents suffice -- and if Republicans plan to drag the issue out for political gain.
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