Congress may hold a vote on President Barack Obama's decision to attack Libya when lawmakers return from recess next week, according to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL).
Durbin, along with Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) held a conference call with reporters on Wednesday afternoon as part of the White House's damage control effort following the widespread and bipartisan criticism over of the lack of congressional consultation before the intervention in Libya, and the lack of clarity over the mission's goals.
"None of us can say with any certainty what will happen when we return, but under the War Powers Act, any senator can ask under privilege of the Senate to call this question, as to whether or not we will support these actions taken by the president," Durbin said. "I think it's consistent with our constitutional responsibility to take up that question," through a vote
Asked by The Cable how Congress plans to pay for the Libya intervention, the costs of which are approaching $1 billion, Durbin said, "I haven't heard anything on that score yet."
The War Powers Resolution of 1973, which Durbin said provides for a vote, allows the president to commit U.S. forces for 60 days without the explicit authorization of Congress, with another 30 days allowed for the withdrawal of those forces.
"The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to a declaration of war, a specific statutory authorization, or a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces," the law states.
The law also stipulates that if both chambers of Congress pass a resolution calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the president must comply. If such a resolution is introduced, it must be reported out of that chamber's foreign relations committee within 15 days. After that it automatically becomes the pending business of that chamber and must be voted on within 3 days.
"There may be some people who will try to end the [Libya] effort, if they try they won't come anywhere near success in the Senate," Levin said. "The reason I think the president will gain bipartisan support for his action is because he's proceeded in a way which is cautious, thoughtful. He has put the ducks in a row before deciding to put the United States in the lead for a short period of time."
Durbin and Levin each made one of the two arguments the White House has used for why the military intervention in Libya was justified -- that the intervention was necessary to halt a humanitarian crisis in Libya, and that it was needed to support the democratic revolution in the Arab world.
"The short term military goal had to be taken very, very quickly or there would have been a slaughter in Benghazi, which has been avoided," Levin said.
"The United States is trying to make sure our position is consistent with our national values," Durbin said.The senators also defended the White House's consultations with Congress, referring to a March 17 classified briefing at the Capitol, which occurred while the administration was already pressing for intervention at the United Nations, and a March 18 briefing at the White House, only 90 minutes before the plan to attack was announced.
The Senate will have its first chance to press the administration on the Libya war on Tuesday, when Adm. James Stavridis, commander of U.S. European Command (USEUCOM), testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Levin chairs.
Levin acknowledged that while the major military operations to establish the no-fly zone may end soon, the U.S. military commitment to the overall mission is open ended. Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead also said Tuesday he did not know exactly what the transition of command would mean for U.S. military involvement.
"Involvement in terms of being the lead in establishing the no-fly zone will be very short. Involvement in terms of supporting the continuation of the no-fly zone I think will be ongoing," Levin said.