Boehner and Obama Play War Powers Brinksmanship

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Update: The White has provided Congress with answers about its Libya campaign a whole two days before Boehner's deadline. As The New York Times explains, the White House is essentially arguing that the U.S. has not been engaged in "hostilities" in Libya since April 7, when it ceded control of the campaign to NATO and assumed a supporting role (providing surveillance and refueling for NATO warplanes and operating unmanned drones). "We are saying the limited nature of this particular mission is not the kind of 'hostilities' envisioned by the War Powers Resolution," State Department legal adviser Harold Koh explained. Meanwhile, Rep. Dennis Kucinich and nine other members of Congress filed a lawsuit today to stop the campaign because Congress hasn't authorized it. The Times notes that "courts in the past have dismissed similar cases on technical grounds."

In a letter released on Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) issued President Obama a not-so-friendly reminder that the clock is ticking on his Libya mission: The 1973 War Powers Resolution says the president can only deploy U.S. military troops for a maximum 90 days without congressional authorization, Boehner noted, and those 90 days are up in Libya on Sunday. If Obama doesn't plan on seeking approval from Congress or withdrawing U.S. troops, the Speaker added, he must lay out the administration's legal justification for the mission by Friday. What are analysts saying about Boehner's move and how the showdown will play out?

  • Boehner's Reacting to Growing House Opposition: The Hill's Russell Berman notes that while Boehner said two weeks ago that the administration wasn't "technically" violating the War Powers Resolution, he now has to  scramble to prevent passage of a measure that would require U.S. forces to withdraw immediately. Indeed, Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is planning to file a federal lawsuit against the war later today, and his opposition is gaining traction among Republicans too. "Boehner has to contend with a Republican Conference that is highly skeptical of the U.S. mission in Libya and the constraints of the role of the speaker," Politico notes. The Hill adds that the Speaker "moved closer to the position of lawmakers who have argued the Libya operation is illegal" in Tuesday's letter. It's less clear where the Senate stands on support for the mission.

  • This Is a Classic Constitutional Conflict: "The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, but makes the president commander-in-chief," Stephen Dinan at The Washington Times observes. "Those dual roles have caused tension throughout the nation's history," and they're doing so again now.
  • But Boehner Is Flip-Flopping: Politico's Jonathan Allen points out that Boehner voted in 1995 to repeal the War Powers Act and questioned the law's constitutionality in 1999 when Congress was debating U.S. involvement in the Balkans. "The president of the United States is, and should remain, the chief architect of America's foreign policy and the commander-in-chief of our armed forces," he wrote at the time.
  • And Playing Politics: Ben Armbruster at ThinkProgress believes Boehner's letter "appears more about political grandstanding than any real concern about violating the War Powers Act." Outside the Beltway's Doug Mataconis agrees. There's no evidence that House Republicans have "changed their mind about the wisdom of foreign military intervention," he writes, "just the wisdom of foreign military intervention when a Democrat is in office."
  • His Strategy Makes No Sense: Hot Air's Allahpundit doesn't understand Boehner's endgame:

Maybe JB thinks a court battle over the War Powers Act would be politically useful? It'd certainly underscore the perceptions of Obama among some lefties and libertarians as a lawless Bushian cowboy, eager to protect his kingly prerogative to wage war without anyone's approval. But it'll also bolster the perception among hawks that he's a stronger-than-expected C-in-C who's unwilling to let Congress pull the rug out from under airmen eager to complete their mission. And of course, a legal battle also risks polarizing Republicans on the constitutionality of the War Powers Act. 

  • Obama Will Probably Meet Boehner's Deadline: The AP's Donna Cassata explains that while the White House initially dismissed a House resolution demanding answers about the Libyan operation by this Friday, it now says it will provide the House and Senate with "extensive information" on the U.S. mission in Libya--including legal analysis regarding the War Powers Resolution--prior to the deadline. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.