WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama faces mounting pressure from lawmakers who have accused him of steamrolling Congress by joining the NATO air war in Libya and are threatening to cut off funding for US operations there.
The dispute touches on the separation of powers, a bedrock principle of US democracy, and has grown more heated following a report that Obama overruled top Defense and Justice Department lawyers in choosing to bypass Congress.
The New York Times reported Friday that Obama had rejected the opinions of the government lawyers, who said the United States was engaged in "hostilities" in Libya that required congressional approval.
The White House has argued that because US forces are playing a supporting role in the NATO air campaign, and because no US ground troops are involved, it does not need legislative backing under the War Powers Resolution.
The 1973 law seeks to limit the executive branch's power to use military force abroad, and says that, after 60 days, the president must seek approval from Congress or else withdraw troops within 30 days.
The United States and Western allies launched the UN-backed bombing campaign against Libyan ruler Moamer Kadhafi's regime on March 19 to protect civilians from his brutal crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising.
Obama faces his toughest critics in the House of Representatives, where Republican House Speaker John Boehner has threatened to cut off funding for the three-month-old bombing campaign.
"The War Powers Resolution is the law of the land and cannot simply be ignored. The White House's suggestion that there are no 'hostilities' taking place in Libya defies rational thought," Boehner said in a statement Friday.
"Over the coming week, our members will review all options available to hold the administration to account."
Boehner was more explicit the day before, saying: "Congress has the power of the purse. And certainly that is an option as well."
The House has already passed an amendment to a defense appropriations bill that prohibit the funds from being used for operations that violate the War Powers Resolution.
Antiwar Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich -- a staunch opponent of the intervention who has filed a lawsuit against Obama over the Libya war -- warning of a "constitutional crisis."
"We have the makings of a constitutional crisis when the President... determines to conduct a war absent congressional authorization, even when it is contrary to the best legal advice of the Pentagon and the Justice Department," Kucinich said Saturday in response to the Times report.
The administration has denied contravening the War Powers Resolution and the Times said Obama's legal position was supported by the White House and State Department's legal advisers.
Top US senators from both parties have meanwhile sought a way out of the impasse, proposing a resolution that would authorize the war but require a more detailed justification and a promise that no ground troops will be used.
"Whether people like it or not, we are engaged in Libya, and we are succeeding," Republican Senator John McCain, who co-authored the proposal with Democratic Senator John Kerry, said Thursday.
But while backing the US response, McCain said he found it "rather hard to swallow that US armed forces dropping bombs and killing enemy personnel in a foreign country does not amount to a state of hostilities."
The decision to use military force in a third Muslim country, even in a supporting role, has grown increasingly unpopular among Americans concerned about the burden on troops already stretched between two wars and an economy creaking under the burden of record budget deficits.
A CBS News poll this month found that six in 10 Americans do not think that the United States should be involved in the conflict in Libya and just 30 percent think it is doing the right thing.
Republican Bob Corker, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, nevertheless insisted Saturday that Obama could have won bipartisan support in Congress to authorize the campaign, if he had wanted to.
"The president would likely have received overwhelming support for the operations in Libya, but his approach has needlessly burned through goodwill with Congress and violated the trust of the American people," he said.
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