Is President Obama about to violate federal law? It's possible, though the administration is currently exploring several options that would enable a continued presence in Libya without superseding executive powers.
It's been two months since the president sent Congress a letter announcing the U.S.-led mission in Libya. And now, 60 days later, Obama's time frame for securing Congressional approval has expired. The 1973 War Powers Act requires that the president get congressional authorization at the end of the two-month mark. If permission isn't granted, the mission must conclude within 30 days.
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg recently testified that the president has operated under the War Powers Resolution since the beginning of the Libya mission and that he will continue to do so. But, unless the president has plans to make major changes to U.S. involvement in the mission or find another work-around plan today, he will find himself violating federal law.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are less than pleased with the lack of protocol being employed. CNN has more:
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-California, tells CNN he believes Obama is trying to "bring democracy to Libya while shredding the Constitution of the United States."
"He cannot continue what he is doing in Libya without congressional authorization. When a president defiantly violates the law, that really undercuts our efforts to urge other countries to have the rule of law," Sherman said...
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, concurs.
"You could say, 'Well, we have a good president, he'll do the right thing.' Well, someday you may have a president who does the wrong thing, and that's why you have rules, because you can never count on people being good people," Paul told CNN.
While there are certainly lawmakers who are displeased with Obama's handling of the matter, Congressional leaders have remained relatively quiet -- a point of frustration for critics on both sides of the aisle. With an impending presidential campaign, both sides are likely weighing the political risks of taking a more definitive stance.
Last week, The New York Times covered some of the potential methods through which the Obama administration may continue the Libya conflict without actually violating The War Powers Act:
One concept being discussed is for the United States to halt the use of its Predator drones in attacking targets in Libya, and restrict them solely to a role gathering surveillance over targets.
By ending all strike missions for American forces, the argument then could be made that the United States was no longer directly engaged in hostilities in Libya, but only providing support to NATO allies.
Another idea is for the United States to order a complete — but temporary — halt to all of its efforts in the Libya mission. Some lawyers make the case that, after a complete pause, the United States could rejoin the mission with a new 60-day clock.
It will be interesting to see if Obama's handling of Libya sets a new precedent for presidential behaviors, or if Congress will stand up and be vocal. Below, watch Rep. John Duncan, (R-Tenn.), discuss his campaign to better clarify the president's powers under The War Powers Act: