La. delegation joins in House debate over war powers

By GERARD SHIELDS

Advocate Washington bureau

WASHINGTON — Louisiana House delegation members will join Thursday in debating the nation’s role in Libya and whether President Barack Obama overstepped his bounds by initiating American action without congressional approval.

Like most of the delegations around the country, Louisiana’s has split along party lines over the matter, with Republicans accusing the president of violating the Wars Powers Act and Democrats supporting his mission to help extend democracy.

Obama never consulted Congress before launching air strikes on March 19 in Libya to topple Col. Moammar Gadhafi. Under the act, the president is required to get approval from Congress within 60 days of military operations with a 30-day extension.

Obama has defended his move saying that the Libyan efforts do not meet the “hostilities” definition of the law and that the United States is part of a NATO coalition.

The House is expected to debate whether to defund the Libyan operations or limit them. U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said Obama clearly violated the law by not consulting Congress.

“If he wants to dispute the constitutionality of the War Powers Act, that is a valid argument,” Cassidy said. “But as it is now, that is the law of the land. My concern is that he is thumbing his nose at the law of the land.”

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, agreed that the Libya action should be considered war.

“There are actually some very legitimate concerns on the side of Congress having the final say on when we go to war,” Richmond said. “How do you define war? I think that every time you’re dropping bombs, especially viewed at the receiving end, you know it’s war.”

But that doesn’t mean that the operation should be halted, Richmond said.

“We made a commitment as a country,” Richmond said. “It’s more than just political. Do we finish what we start? We are a country that lives up to our commitments.”

U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, doesn’t have a problem with the operation but questions the president failing to let the Congress know about the mission.

“If Libya was the right move, he should have made his case to the American people and he should have gotten Congress to sign off,” Fleming said. “We’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt, he’s the president of the United States.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said earlier in the week that he would consider two resolutions, one limiting the operations to one year and another to remove U.S. forces except those needed for such operations as search and rescue, surveillance and non-combat missions. Two other amendments, one Republican and another Democratic, are expected to be offered that would defund the effort. Louisiana members agreed that they would not vote for cutting off funding for the operations.

“I would hope that we would listen to the military experts on the ground and get them to tell us what our objectives are,” said U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman. “We just need to be careful we don’t get bogged down there for 10 years like we are in Afghanistan.”

U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced a Senate resolution earlier in the week to limit Libyan operations to one year and prohibit ground forces being employed.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., backs the president on the matter, she said.

“It may be our best chance since the Berlin Wall fell to influence the outcome and spread of democracy in places of the world that desperately need it,” Landrieu said. “We just can’t screw this up.”