Obama, Congress at the Brink Over Libya War

“We have seen who is attacking civilians. They are targeting houses and flats. Tomorrow they will target schools and hospitals.”

-- Khalid Kaim, Libyan deputy foreign minister, taking foreign journalists on a tour of civilian casualties in Tripoli after NATO airstrikes.

It has now been 90 days since the U.S. entered the Libyan civil war and a growing, bipartisan coalition in Congress maintains that the Obama administration is now in violation of the law that has governed U.S. military deployments for the past 38 years.

Speaker John Boehner may have gotten a round of golf in with President Obama but he doesn’t seem to have had any success in convincing the president to help him tame a revolt in Congress over the conflict.

Republican leaders, looking to avoid a constitutional crisis, have been asking the White House for at least an acknowledgement of congressional authority over American involvement in the five-month-old stalemated civil war. The U.S. has been involved in the war since March 20 and now even the most ardent interventionists in Congress want the administration to make some nod to congressional authority.

The administration, meanwhile, continues to hold that the president doesn’t need congressional authorization because the U.S. role in the conflict – air raids on Libyan government positions, logistical support for the under-armed European members of NATO and aid for the coalition of eastern tribesmen and Islamists which American forces are backing – is not significant enough.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who along with Sen. John McCain is part of a shrinking group of GOP supporters of the war, said Sunday on NBC that it’s time for Obama to “step up” and explain his strategy, but that it was also time for Congress to “shut up” and stop raising doubts about the war that would empower Libyan strongman Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi.

That is the harshest argument yet to come out of the interventionist wing in Congress: that those demanding Obama submit to Congress on the subject are aiding Qaddafi and risking a region-wide conflagration if Qaddafi and his fellow secularist, western tribesmen are allowed to remain in power.

As members of Congress drift back in to Washington today, there is a sense of anxiety as members confront the fact that addressing (or not addressing) Obama’s unauthorized use of force means not only setting new precedents for the separation of powers in Washington, but possibly the end of NATO.

The NATO-led coalition has failed to deliver the swift victory Obama once promised and over the weekend managed not only to accidentally blow up a column of rebel troops but also killed an unknown number of Tripolitan civilians in an errant bombing run. The Europeans lack the precision munitions and firepower to knock over Qaddafi or avoid errors like the ones of the past several days, but because Obama has adopted the legal stance that the conflict is too small for him to seek permission the administration is loathe to provide the firepower needed to bring the war to a swifter resolution.

Another constraint is in the fact that the rebel coalition lacks the broad-based support to form a national unity government. Even ardent interventionists worry about Islamists experiencing similar success in Libya as they have in the political vacuum in Egypt.

If Obama is forced to disengage from Libya, it could very well mean the end of the increasingly weak NATO alliance, which, by extension, would mean the end of European support for Obama’s nation-building effort in Afghanistan, which is bogging down over administrative and diplomatic conflicts, despite the success of U.S. war fighters in the field.

Social Conservatives Flex Their Muscles

''Our loudest opponents on the left are never going to like us, so let's quit trying to curry favor with them.”

-- Rick Perry speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans on Saturday.

Mitt Romney has refused to sign a pledge offered by pro-life political action group Susan B. Anthony list, one of the most influential groups in the 2010 election cycle.

Romney’s team argued that the language of the pledge was so restrictive it would prevent the nomination of qualified individuals to key cabinet positions or court vacancies because of deviations from pro-life orthodoxy. Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho told FOX News the pledge might preclude the service of pro-choice Republicans in foreign policy or national security roles, citing Tom Ridge, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell as potential victims of such a ban.

Most members of the declared Republican field – including Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum – have taken the “100 percent pro-life” pledge.

Since Ridge, Rice and Powell are hardly the most popular figures in the conservative base, in part because of their views on abortion, Romney’s argument on personnel is of little worry to those looking to bring down the frontrunner.

Romney’s decision not to sign the pledge comes as the former Massachusetts Gov. is looking to solidify his position as the frontrunner. But aside from fending off an increasingly steady stream of attacks from the more conservative wing of the party, Romney will also face a challenge from his left from former Ambassador to China and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who will launch his bid Tuesday and is targeting the same portions of the East Coast GOP establishment that have been lining up for Romney.

The consensus in the GOP establishment is that social issues are a loser for Republicans in this cycle and that the party has to expand its reach to economically anxious younger voters by updating its positions on issues like abortion and gay marriage.

But Romney, who has had shifting positions on abortion through the years, is in a difficult position to make that pivot. Because the activists who populate the Republican primary electorate have long had misgivings about Mormon Romney’s cultural bona fides, any outreach or talk of “truce” will be eyed suspiciously.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, meanwhile, continues to build momentum among the conservative quarters of the Republican Party. He gave a rip-snorting speech at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans on Saturday that championed unabashed social and fiscal conservatism and again chided fellow Republicans who are looking to downplay the social side of their ideology in an effort to curry favor with swing voters.

One Perry backer pointed to a Power Play item last week that posed the question: Would Perry’s social conservatism prevent him from building a coalition in the more socially liberal Republican establishment?

“As much as the elites would like to sweep aside these issues, when it comes to issues like the life of an unborn child or the sanctity of marriage, Rick Perry is very much in the Republican mainstream,” the adviser wrote in an email. “Those Republicans who think that this is the time to hide our views are the ones who are out of the mainstream.”

The theory for the Perry campaign in waiting is that fiscal conservatives will accept a social conservative who also espouses a Mitch Daniels-like zeal for austerity but that social conservatives will not budge on their core issues.

Obama Looks to Get Hip on Gay Marriage

"I find it as cool to be an Obama supporter. Having sat with him for two years is the White House and watched him -- watching him work through some very difficult things with a lot of intelligence and grace, equilibrium. I, I have great admiration for him.”

-- David Axelrod on “State of the Union” when asked how he would make it “cool again” to back the president.

This looks like the week that President Obama might complete his pivot on gay marriage.

Obama has said that his views on the subject, established as clear opposition during the 2008 campaign, have been “evolving,” setting the stage for a move toward what proponents of government-sanctioned gay marriage call “marriage equality.”

Obama’s fundraising push takes him back to Manhattan this week for a high-dollar fundraiser for gay Democratic donors. Next week, Obama will host a gay pride celebration at the White House.

Last week, White House Communications Director Dan Pfieffer got heckled and booed when he visited a convention for liberal online activists. Much of the anger was over the administration’s slow movement on gay issues.

At the top of the list is speeding up the process by which gay members of the military will be allowed to openly express their sexualities and to embrace the concept of gay marriage. Many gay activists have held that Obama is uncomfortable with their movement and that his commitment to homosexual rights has been half-hearted.

An-administration friendly New York Times story today suggests that Obama has always been in favor of gay marriage but was not able to express himself in 2008 because the nation’s attitudes had not then evolved enough to permit him to live out loud as a friend to gay marriage. If any change to the end of the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is forthcoming from Congress it would be to slow the repeal not speed it, but gay marriage is kind of a freebie for Obama.

There’s not much he can do about the subject as president, having already extended federal spousal benefits to gay partners of government workers and decided not to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act. All Obama can do is express solidarity on the subject, which might satisfy the wealthy and influential gay lobby inside the Democratic Party but not require him to take any controversial policy stances closer to the general election. It is a subject on which only presidential inaction is needed to affect change.

Plus, with liberals continuing to seethe over Obama’s appetite for military interventions around the globe, the White House needs to show that it is listening to the grass roots.