White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended President Obama against House Speaker John Boehner's charges that the president didn't adequately consult with Congress before ordering the U.S. military into action in Libya.
Talking to reporters, Carney ticked off a list of meetings and contacts between either the president or other administration officials and lawmakers.
He also argued that the president averted a massacre of civilians in the Libyan city of Benghazi by acting when he did. If allies had waited for Congress to return from its recess before implementing the UN-sanctioned no-fly zone, Carney said, that would have given Moammar Ghadafi time to carry out his threat to exterminate his opponents in that city.
Carney suggested some of the criticism was political in nature though he carefully denied that he was directing that at members of Congress.
He didn't name names for those who viewed as being partisan. Several possible Republican presidential candidates have faulted the president's Libya actions for various reasons.
Here's an extended excerpt from the part of Carney's briefing or reporters.
MR. CARNEY: I — we believe, and the president believes very
strongly, that consultations with Congress are an important part of
his responsibility as president in a — on an issue like this to
consult with members of Congress. And he has done that. He has
instructed senior staff here to do that. And we have in a very
substantial way consulted with Congress and will continue to do that.
I mean, I just want to make sure that everybody's aware of the
variety of ways in briefings and in hearings that senior people in the
administration and as well as the president have been engaged in
consultations with Congress, going back as far as February 28 when
national intelligence officers from the DNI briefed House — members
of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where theyhad a close session on Libya and Somalia.
March 1, there was a similar closed briefing with Senate Select
Committee on Intelligence members, with issues in the Middle East,
North Africa, including Libya.
Secretary Clinton testified to the House Foreign Affairs
Committee hearing on assessing U.S. foreign policy priorities and
needs, which included a substantial discussion of Libya.
That was on March 1, March 2. Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen
testified at a hearing on Defense Department appropriations; again,
including a discussion — and ample discussion of a potential Libya
Also on March 2, Secretary Clinton at the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee included discussion on Libya and possible policy
The list goes on — March 4th, March 10th, March 14th. The ODNI
briefed Speaker Boehner on Libya in a classified briefing. That was
On March 17th, Undersecretary Burns testified in open session to
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on popular uprisings in the
Middle East, but the main focus was on Libya.
REPORTER: Jay — (off mic) —
MR. CARNEY: On March 17th — just — let me just continue,
because it's important that the American people understand how much consultation there has been. And then, as you know, March 17th, all — there was an all-senators briefing on Libya developments and possible U.S. government and international responses, including
potential military options, by an interagency team led by
Undersecretary of State Bill Burns but including the ODNI and DOD.
And I should mention, as you all know, that on March 1st — I
believe it was March 1st where the Senate passed a resolution calling
on actions to be to be — that they believed should be taken by the
United States and international partners, which was extremely similar to the actions that of course we did take several weeks later.
On March 18th, the president invited members of Congress — a
bipartisan, bicameral leadership meeting at the White House — to
consult on Libya and to brief them on the limited, discrete and well-
defined participation that he envisioned for the United States to help
implement the U.N. resolution. Members of Congress who participated included Majority Leader Reid, Democratic Whip Hoyer, Senator Levin, Senator Lugar, Senator Chambliss, Representative Rogers, Representative Ruppersberger, Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, Democratic Leader Pelosi, Senator Durbin, Senator McConnell, Senator Kyl, Senator Kerry, Senator Feinstein, Representative McKeon, Representative Ros-Lehtinen and Representative Berman. Consultations continued on the 18th and 19th and there forward, and they will continue from this day forward.
REPORTER: So then why then, if — you know, you've read off that long list of consultations, why then are these concerns coming from the Hill? Do you think this is whining?
MR. CARNEY: No. No. We think that it is important to consult
with members of Congress. We think the questions that have been asked have been legitimate. There has been some, obviously — not members of Congress, but elsewhere — some, I think, some commentary that has been perhaps driven by politics. But in terms of members of Congress, we think their questions and concerns are legitimate and need to be answered, which is why the president has on numerous occasions not just consulted with Congress but taken your questions and made statements about Libya just in the last week — nearly every day, in fact — and will continue to do that.
And I would say that the questions that are outlined by members
of Congress have by and large been answered — by the president
himself, by the secretary of state, secretary of defense, Admiral
Mullen, Denis McDonough, Ben Rhodes, me. And we'll continue to do that.
REPORTER: So do you think all of the questions that John Boehner asked in his letter have already been answered?
MR. CARNEY: We have certainly endeavored to answer those
REPORTER: So you're not planning any kind of response to him.
MR. CARNEY: I didn't — I don't know of any specific response to
the letter. I'm not precluding one, but I just — we are — this is
an ongoing process. We will continue to consult with the leaders of
Congress and with rank-and-file members.
REPORTER: So I guess you believe that when John Boehner said in this letter, no opportunity was afforded to consult with congressional leaders, you believe he's wildly off the mark?
MR. CARNEY: I just — I would just point you to the list of
consultations that I enumerated with you, the public statements,
private closed briefings that were given. And also make the point
that we, even within that — because this only goes back to February
28th, and today is March 24th — this has obviously been a very tight time frame, and it was driven in part by the — what was happening on the ground, which was fast-moving and evolving.
And I would remind you that standing at this podium, as now what
seems like an eternity ago, probably two weeks or less, one of your colleagues repeatedly asked me, how many people have to die before the U.S. acts, OK, and how many people have to die before the international community takes action?
And I would say that the president acted and took action because
he felt that it was incumbent upon him, and the leaders of the
coalition agreed, that something had to be done to prevent Gadhafi's forces from committing a massacre in Benghazi. And we feel it's very important that the actions that were taken prevented that kind of massacre from taking place.
American military action, international military action has saved
an enormous number of lives in the past five days, and that is
something that Americans should be very proud of.
REPORTER: Back on the issue of consultations. I think one of their
arguments is there's a difference between consultation and briefings
and notification. They believe that they've been briefed and notified
about what the administration was doing, but when it came time to make the final decision, they do not believe they had an opportunity to make counterarguments that the administration would consider in making its final decision; that there was no real consultation, it was just notification —
MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to read out the meetings we had.
Certainly I've listed some of the members who participated in some of these briefings.
REPORTER: (Off mic.)
MR. CARNEY: And you should — you should ask them what kind of
questions were raised then and the answers they got from the president and others. I would simply say that, again, we believe consultation is vitally important. It's part of the process, the president's committed to it, and will continue to do it.
He also believes that he is the commander in chief, and
leadership requires him to take action when action will save lives and
delaying action will cost lives.
REPORTER: One —
MR. CARNEY: And in this case, had we waited for Congress to get
back, there is no question, I think, in anybody's minds — in our
military, in our foreign policy establishment, national security
establishment, or in the minds of reporters who covered it on the
ground — that there — Gadhafi's forces would control Benghazi and
there would have been a great deal of people killed in the process.
REPORTER: A quick clarification from the president's press conference the other day. He — when he — he said when this transition takes place, it is not going to be our planes that are maintaining the no-fly zone. That means zero U.S. planes?
MR. CARNEY: That's my understanding, that in terms of
maintaining and forcing the no-fly zone, the United States will not be
— not be participating in that way. We will be in a support and
REPORTER: And then he continued. He said, it is not going to be our ships that are necessarily involved in forcing the arms embargo. By saying "necessarily," was he leaving wiggle room there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not going to improve upon the president's
words there. I would simply say that we will obviously have a
continued role in a support and assist posture, that we will not be
leading the effort. And since the actions that have been taken thus
far have been designed to create the environment for the enforcement of a no-fly zone, and that we had unique capacities, capabilities in order to make that happen, we — our — the intense — the intense efforts of the United States military were front-loaded in this in phase one. So our — we will — we will obviously continue to
participate as part of the coalition in phase two and beyond.
REPORTER: Jay, what about the assertion by Speaker Boehner and other Republicans at least that the U.S. is now involved in a third military conflict without the president having prepared the American public? There have been calls — Senator Kirk, for example — for an Oval Office address.
Does the president feel that that is not necessary?
MR. CARNEY: The president looks forward to communicating to the
American public about Libya, as he has on multiple occasions already.
But he will obviously continue to do it. I don't have an announcement on the forum for the way in which he will do that next, but I can assure you it will be more than one time in the future, as it has already been five or six times in the past.
And I think that we believe that it actually — it absolutely is
important for the president to speak to the American public, to inform them of what he's doing.