WASHINGTON — Defying congressional criticism, the White House insisted Wednesday that President Barack Obama has the authority to continue U.S. military action in Libya even without authorization from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
In a detailed 32-page report to Congress, the White House also put the cost of U.S. military operations and humanitarian assistance in Libya at about $800 million as of June 3, with the total increasing to $1.1 billion by early September.
It was the first time the administration has publicly detailed its legal rationale for continuing the Libya campaign without receiving congressional authorization within the 60-day window set in the War Powers Resolution. Officials argued that because the United States has a limited, supporting role in the NATO-led bombing campaign in Libya and American forces are not engaged in sustained fighting, the president is within his constitutional rights to direct the mission on his own.
The administration's defense of the Libya mission comes in response to a nonbinding House resolution passed this month that chastised Obama for failing to provide a "compelling rationale" for U.S. involvement in Libya.
The resolution gave the administration until Friday to respond to a series of questions on the mission, including the scope of U.S. military activity, the cost of the mission and its impact on other U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the report appeared to do little to quell congressional criticism. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the White House was using "creative arguments" that raised additional questions.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who has introduced a resolution similar to the House measure, said he was amazed that the administration did not believe U.S. forces were facing "hostilities" in Libya, saying generals have told lawmakers otherwise in classified briefings.
Adding to the congressional pressure on Obama, a bipartisan group of 10 lawmakers on Wednesday sued the president for taking military action against Libya without war authorization from Congress. The lawmakers said Obama violated the Constitution in bypassing Congress and using international organizations like the United Nations and NATO to authorize military force.
While Obama did not seek congressional consent before ordering U.S. airstrikes against Moammar Gadhafi's forces nearly three months ago, the White House maintained that the president is not in violation of the War Powers Resolution. Boehner sent Obama a letter this week stating that the 90-day window runs out on Sunday.
While the United States led the initial airstrikes on Libya, NATO forces have since taken over the mission. The United States still plays a significant support role that includes aerial refueling of warplanes, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance work. Obama has ruled out sending U.S. ground forces to Libya.
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