Is President Obama About to Break the Law?

From the beginning of the U.S. military intervention in Libya, the Obama administration has cited the 1973 War Powers Act as the legal basis of its ability to conduct military activities for 60 days without first seeking a declaration of war from Congress. The military intervention started on March 19; Congress was notified on March 21. Those 60 days expire tomorrow. Last week, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that President Obama “has been mindful of the provisions of the War Powers Resolution and has acted in a manner consistent with them. He will continue to do so.” Steinberg said the administration is “mindful of the passage of time including the end of the two-month period, we are in the process of reviewing our role, and the president will be making decisions going forward in terms of what he sees as appropriate for us to do." What is President Obama -– a former lecturer in constitutional law -- going to do? White House officials refused to say. And the chorus of criticism -– from the right and left -- is rising. On Wednesday six Republican senators -- John Cornyn of Texas, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Mike Lee of Utah, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Rand Paul of Kentucky – wrote to the president, saying the military intervention "was taken without regard to or compliance with the requirement of section 2(c) of the War Powers Resolution that the United States Armed Forces only be introduced into hostilities or situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances ‘pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.’ “As recently as last week your Administration indicated use of the United States Armed Forces will continue indefinitely,” the GOP senators wrote. “Therefore, we are writing to ask whether you intend to comply with the requirements of the War Powers Resolution. We await your response.” Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., told CNN the operation was “bring(ing) democracy to Libya while shredding the Constitution of the United States….He cannot continue what he’s doing in Libya without congressional authorization. And when a president defiantly violates the law that really undercuts our effort to urge other countries to have the rule of law.”

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