The Note: Obama's Juggling Act In Libya: Some in Congress Question Strategy, End Game


For the White House, where officials have always said President Obama can “walk and chew gum” at the same time, the ongoing military action in Libya provides an additional test for an administration now dealing with another major conflict overseas, uncertainly in the greater Middle East, involvement in the Japan recovery and relief effort, and a looming budget battle on Capitol Hill -- and that’s just for starters.

And all of this comes at a time when the president had finally been hoping to pivot to the still shaky domestic economy as the 2012 election cycle approaches. Add to that a growing chorus of Republican voices now criticizing Obama on his handling of the Libya situation.

“The President is the commander-in-chief, but the Administration has a responsibility to define for the American people, the Congress, and our troops what the mission in Libya is, better explain what America’s role is in achieving that mission, and make clear how it will be accomplished,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement yesterday. “Before any further military commitments are made, the Administration must do a better job of communicating to the American people and to Congress about our mission in Libya and how it will be achieved.”

ABC News reports that in the last 24 hours, U.S. military attacks on Libya have intensified and are targeting Moammar Gadhafi's air defenses, troops, and warplanes -- actions that followed Sunday's missile raids that struck “military assets” within Gadhafi's compound and a barrage of air strikes by U.S. and European militaries that destroyed Libyan defenses.

But some Republicans, including Arizona Sen. John McCain, argued that President Obama “waited too long” for the United Nations to act before authorizing U.S. military involvement.

“There is no doubt in my mind,” McCain said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “But now it is what it is. And we need now to support him and the efforts that our military are going to make. And I regret that we didn't act much more quickly and we could have, but that's not the point now.”

GOP leaders also took President Obama, who is continuing his trip in South America today, to task over what they see as poor consultation with lawmakers prior to taking action against the Libyan government.

“The ‘consultation’ they keep talking about was nothing of the sort. While the commander-in-chief does not need congressional authorization to take military action, he does have an obligation to consult with Congress -- and contrary to administration claims, there has been no real consultation,” one GOP leadership aide told The Note. “Congress was simply informed what was happening, as it was happening.”

As Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., put it in a tweet last night: “On Libya, is Congress going to assert it's constitutional role or be a potted plant?”

“Democrats screamed about the lack of consultation during the Bush years, odd that they’re quiet on it now," another Republican leadership aide pointed out, "I think it will be a lot quieter and a lot more respectful than the way Dems treated Bush.”

But the White House pushed back on the consultation issue on Monday: "We take the consultative role very seriously," a senior administration official told ABC’s Jake Tapper. That said, the official argued, this is a military operation that will be "short in duration and scope, so we believe we have the authority to carry it out."

The key questions the Obama administration will have to contend with in the coming days are clear: Despite the emphasis by the White House that the U.S. is playing a limited and short-term role, has America become involved in something it now can’t get out of? Just how big is the potential for unrest in the Middle East and North Africa -- combined with the disaster in Japan -- to destabilize the already fragile economic recovery?

And will the administration follow a clearly-defined "Obama doctrine" on U.S. foreign intervention as the summer deadline for troop drawdown in Afghanistan looms. Note that the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll suggests that the American public has turned the corner on the war with just 31 percent saying it’s still worth fighting.

More on those questions and answers for the White House from Jake Tapper’s report:

BOTTOM LINE: Despite the specific criticism, is clear that both sides are taking wait-and-see approach on U.S. action in Libya. But it's also clear that if this drags on beyond the short term goals that the White House outlined, Republicans are ready to pounce. And, on his left, liberals are already questioning the U.S. strikes. Politico reports that in a conference call over the weekend, a coalition of House Democrats, including Reps. Jerrold Nadler of New York, Donna Edwards of Maryland Mike Capuano of Massachusetts, Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Maxine Waters of California, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, and Barbara Lee of California “all strongly raised objections to the constitutionality of the president’s actions.”

LIBYA UPDATE. “While US forces have clearly taken the lead in this initial assault, on Sunday Secretary of Defense Robert Gates downplayed the U.S. role in the coalition,” ABC’s Martha Raddatz, Devin Dwyer and Luis Martinez report. "'We will continue to support the coalition, we will be a member of the coalition, we will have a military role in the coalition. But we will not have the preeminent role,’ he said. Throughout the night, US warplanes including Marine Corps Harrier Jets launched from US ships in the Mediterranean along with Air Force fighter jets took aim at a convoy of Ghadhafi's troops southwest of Benghazi -- the rebel stronghold that the Libyan leader has vowed to take back. While fighter jets were pounding Gadhafi's forces in the east, three B2 stealth bombers dropped 45 2,000-pound bombs on a military airfield near Misrata. The bombs struck multiple shelters housing Gadhafi's warplanes. It is believed now that Gadhafi's forces are under significant stress, and are suffering from isolation and a good deal of confusion.”

NOTED: “The Libyan government released four detained New York Times journalists Monday, six days after they were captured while covering the conflict between government and rebel forces in the eastern city of Ajdabiya. They were released into the custody of Turkish diplomats who were accompanying them out of Libya,” The Times reports this morning.

NOTABLE: ARMY APOLOGIZES FOR AFGHAN ‘TROPHY’ PHOTOS. ABC’s Luis Martinez reports that the US Army is apologizing for photographs published in the German magazine Der Spiegel this weekend that show American soldiers posing beside the corpse of an Afghan civilian they are accused of having killed for sport. “An Army statement responding to the photos publication says, ‘Today Der Spiegel published photographs depicting actions repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States Army. We apologize for the distress these photos cause.’ The photographs are part of the evidence seized in the case against five US Army soldiers who are accused of murder and conspiracy for the deaths of several Afghan civilians. The soldiers from the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division were deployed to southern Afghanistan last year at the time they are alleged to have participated in the killings. They are facing court martial at their home base of Fort Lewis, Washington.”

ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Amy Walter and Rick Klein interview Neera Tanden, the Chief Operating Officer at the Center for American Progress who worked on the health care law as an aide in the Obama White House. Also on the show: James Pindell, the Political Director at WMUR in New Hampshire. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.

“THIS WEEK” REPLAY: MULLEN ON ‘LIMITED OBJECTIVES’ IN LIBYA. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen told ABC “This Week” anchor Christiane Amanpour on Sunday that the United States would be transitioning to a "supporting role" in the Libyan conflict in the days ahead. "We're very focused on the limited objectives that the president has given us and actually the international coalition has given us, in terms of providing the no-fly zone so that he cannot attack his own people, to avoid any kind of humanitarian massacre, if you will, and to provide for the humanitarian corridors, humanitarian support of the Libyan people," Mullen said. Chairman Mullen did not say that removing Gadhafi from power was a direct objective of the no-fly zone, and would not speculate on the length of time needed for coalition forces to operate. "I think circumstances will drive where this goes in the future," he told Amanpour. "It's had a pretty significant effect very early in terms of our ability to address his forces, to attack his forces on the ground, which we did yesterday outside Benghazi, and get the no-fly zone stood up." (h/t ABC’s Imtiyaz Delawala)


SEN. MANCHIN’S DEBT CEILING ULTIMATUM. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who continues to be a critic of the Obama administration on fiscal issues, plans to announce today he will not vote to raise the debt ceiling unless his vote is tied to a plan to fix the budget deficit for future generations. He’ll say so during a week-long "Our Values, Our Priorities" tour of the state, which begins tomorrow morning with a speech to students at the University of Charleston. "We must get our fiscal house in order. We must be honest about what we value and what we need to spend your taxpayer dollars on – not what just sounds good,” Manchin will say in the speech, according to his prepared remarks. "I have never put together a budget - be it my family's or as governor - that was based on how much we wanted to spend, but on what we had. … That is why I will vote against raising the debt ceiling unless the vote is linked to a real budget plan that begins to fix our fiscal mess. We cannot make budgets based on the next election; they must be based on the next generation."

GOP EYES WALL STREET REFORMS. “In their quest to undo the liberal agenda advanced by a Democratic Congress and president, the Republican-led House has begun nibbling at the edges of the Wall Street reforms President Obama signed into law in July,” The Washington Examiner’s Susan Ferrechio writes. “Wary of appearing too cozy with Wall Street bankers, who the public still largely blames for the 2007 financial crisis, the GOP has stopped far short of the full repeal of the law, as House Republicans accomplished earlier this year with another Democratic priority, the health care reform law. Instead, Republicans have introduced five bills aimed at curbing parts of the financial reform law that they say are the most onerous, particularly for small and growing businesses. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus last week introduced the first bill, which would dilute the power of the presidentially appointed director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, now run by Elizabeth Warren. … Bachus said he was introducing the bill ‘because the CFPB might be the most powerful agency ever created’ and he wants to ‘ensure that a nonpartisan, balanced approach to consumer protection prevails.’”

DEMOCRATS SPLIT ON SOCIAL SECURITY. “Democrats have broken ranks over a move to consider Social Security changes -- including possibly raising the retirement age -- to ensure its long-term fiscal health in combination with an effort to reach a deficit-reduction package,” The Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta notes. “The idea of putting Social Security into play has triggered a firestorm of opposition from several corners of the Democratic party. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), two of the Senate's most powerful lawmakers, have said revisions to Social Security shouldn't be attached to a deficit-reduction plan. They argue the program's benefits are covered by giant trust funds that have no impact on the deficit. ‘I believe it is a separate discussion from either the short-term or long-term budget discussions,’ Mr. Schumer said earlier this month. Dozens of other House and Senate Democrats appear to agree. AARP, the powerful lobbying group for Americans over 50, is also raising concerns.”

PALIN LANDS IN ISRAEL. “Sarah Palin began a private visit to Israel on Sunday, her first to the Jewish state, and planned to meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and tour holy sites,” Reuters reports. “‘As the world confronts sweeping changes and new realities, I look forward to meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the key issues facing his country, our ally Israel,’ Palin, who flew in from India, said in a statement on her website. Israeli media described her trip as a bid to show support for Israel, whose standing is strong among US voters, and gain more experience in international affairs ahead of a possible presidential run. Palin, who is keeping her supporters guessing on whether she will run for the presidency, made no comment to reporters on arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion airport for the two-day visit.”

DEMS HIT MITCH DANIELS IN INDIANA. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is releasing an issue ad in Indiana today that the group says “highlights the damage Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Republicans in the legislature are trying to inflict on Indiana's working families.” The ad script says, “Mitch Daniels and his friends have big plans for hardworking Hoosier families. Not more jobs or better wages. Instead, Daniels and the Republicans in Indianapolis want to kill collective bargaining, slash wages for workers and decimate public schools by sending our tax dollars to private schools. But Democrats are standing up to Daniels’ anti-middle class agenda -- and standing up for us.” The 30-second television spot is initially scheduled to run in the Indianapolis metro area for a week.


@ RobinRoberts : i.m finally here! Joining Twitter in hnor of you. My way of saying thanks for all your love and support for @GMA.

@ MPOTheHill : House Dems sent $870k to the DCCC in Feb. House Republicans sent $570k to the NRCC (over half by Boehner)

@ brianjameswalsh : With Manchin's pledge on the debt ceiling, pressure now builds on McCaskill, Tester, Nelson and other 2012 Dems - where do they stand?

@ mikememoli : CA Republicans vote to nominate candidates by mail, blunting new 'top-two primary' system

@ RalstonFlash : Haley Barbour coming to Nevada to break bread with Gov. @ BrianSandoval, legislators. #thirdstateinline #noromneylock


*Sarah Palin will continue her trip in Israel and meet with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

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