A key Obama ally, Dick Durbin of Illinois, on Thursday weighed in on the current military mission in Libya, in which the U.S. is involved through NATO, saying that though he supports the action, it is time for Congress to do its duty under the War Powers Resolution and authorize the use of force while also limiting the time for U.S. involvement.
Together with fellow Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Ben Cardin, D-MD, the two have authored a resolution that authorizes force consistent with the War Powers Resolution, which demands action from Congress 60 days after U.S. forces have been committed to a conflict. The resolution from the number two Democrat and Cardin forbids the U.S. from sending troops into a ground war, something the Administration has said it would not do, and it only authorizes the use of force through the end of the calendar year. Any continuation of the mission would require another vote from Congress.
Durbin said he supported what the president did "initially," but added, "I believe what we are engaged in in Libya is a matter that should come under the War Powers Resolution. I believe we should, as a Congress, consider it under the WPR. Now - I think that is the right course of action. It will give the president clear authority, and it will also establish the clear authority of Congress in this concept, in this particular situation."
The sentiment from the doveish Durbin is shared among many Democrats, according to a senior Democratic leadership aide.
Durbin was quick to add, however, that he would vote affirmatively for a resolution like this, fully supporting the president.
Presidents have long opposed the Vietnam-era legislation as an infringement on their authority as Commander in Chief. President Obama's chief counsel, Bob Bauer, told Congress Wednesday that no authorization was necessary, as the U.S. was not involved in "hostilities."
That did not sit well with Durbin. "I respect Mr. Bauer, but I respectfully disagree with him. I believe what we are engaged in in Libya is a matter that should come under the War Powers Resolution. I believe we should, as a Congress, consider it under the War Powers Resolution. Now, I think that is the right course of action. It will give the president clear authority, and it will also establish the clear authority of Congress...in this particular situation."
Durbin said he hopes to merge his effort with a resolution crafted by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and John McCain of Arizona, top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The two have been working for months with the Administration and a bipartisan group of senators, including Intelligence Committee Chairmwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to formulate a resolution supportive of the mission.
McCain said the Administration's response Wednesday did not help matters and chastised Bauer, as well, for saying the conflict did not constitute "hostilities," which would thereby spark action under the War Powers Resolution.
"The Administration may assert there are no hostilities. We are in a state of hostilities," the former Air Force officer and prisoner of war declared. "The Senate has been silent too long. It's time for the Senate to speak."
The Senate could consider the Libya legislation as early as next week.