Larry O'Donnell, Contessa Brewer Spin Libya Scrutiny Away From Obama

In discussing the present "kinetic military action" in Libya, MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell and Contessa Brewer both tried to shift scrutiny away from President Obama and toward Republicans Monday afternoon, hours before the President's address to the nation on Libya.

O'Donnell tried to pinpoint the hypocrisy of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for criticizing Obama's failure to obtain authorization from Congress for military action in Libya. The liberal MSNBC host referred back to a nonbinding Senate resolution passed unanimously on March 1, calling for the U.N. Security Council to implement a no-fly zone over Libya.

Since the resolution passed unanimously, O'Donnell believed McConnell to be a hypocrite for voting for a no-fly zone and then calling out President Obama for failing to seek authorization from Congress. The nonbinding resolution, though, was effectively an opinion from the Senate on the matter. The U.S. Congress never authorized President Obama to declare war or preside over military action in Libya.  

(Video after the jump.)
 

What O'Donnell missed was then-Senator Obama's 2007 claim that the President has no power "to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." O'Donnell never explored the underlying hypocrisy in such a comment.

Brewer, not exactly a foreign policy expert, tried to ask provocative questions concerning the history of the use of Presidential power in declaring war without Congressional consent. She also tried to make the present spat between Obama and Congress look unprecedented.

"Are there other cases in history where you've had Congress throwing such a fit over the U.N. Security Council making a resolution, the United States supporting that resolution, and our lawmakers going 'Now wait a minute, you have to come and ask us about this'?" Brewer asked O'Donnell. "Not at this stage," O'Donnell responded.

President Obama is not limited by doctrine in foreign policy, O'Donnell claimed, in order to further legitimize Obama's position. "That is a voluntary humanitarian act on the part of the United States because it can. And so this is a situation where the truth of it is, the President is doing this because we can. And that doesn't fit a doctrine, so it's an uncomfortable thing for him to say."

A transcript of the segment, which aired on March 28 at 2:29 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

CONTESSA BREWER: There's been a lot of criticism of the way President Obama has handled this. In fact, we were just watching Mitch McConnell on the floor of the Senate. He was bashing the President, saying "Look, the President should have come to Congress." Here's the live picture of him on the Senate floor – he says that the President should have come and gotten authorization for this military action.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: It couldn't be more ironic to see Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor talking about this, because it was on the Senate floor, on March 1, in the single most ignored moment of this story that the United States Senate and Mitch McConnell voted unanimously – unanimously – for a resolution calling for a no-fly zone from the United Nations. And so the United States Senate is unanimous, on-the-record, in favor of this before the President took any action whatsoever. But the media has missed it, I mean it's one of the most ignored items that's happened here. So if this was a House member, they didn't cast that vote. You know, they can play around and spin it any way they want. But McConnell actually voted for this.

BREWER: Okay, well then let's talk about the House members. Do they have a case? Because I was looking back at the history of presidents taking the executive authority and ordering military action, and it goes way back.

O'DONNELL: Yeah, well you know what's happened it politically, the Congress surrendered war powers. It became – it became a congressional power that they didn't want. The responsibility became so heavy that they said, "You know what? We're just going to look the other way, let you presidents do whatever you want," basically from Vietnam forward. And so they then tried to codify it through this so-called "War Powers Act" where they are basically saying the President can do these things and then he has to – he can do them quickly if he has to, he has to come report to us in 48 hours. All of the requirements of the War Powers Act have been observed here, and it was the Congress that wrote the War Powers Act, not the President. I don't like it, I wish that they did have Congressional war declarations, or if it's not going to be a war, call it something else and go through the Congress first. But Congress very deliberately surrendered this power , they actually want to be able to sit back and criticize it if goes badly, and be in favor of it if it goes well.

BREWER: So nobody's calling this a war – I mean, it's called military intervention, it's called military strikes, it's called United Nations Security Council enforcement – but they're not calling it a war. Are there other cases in history where you've had Congress throwing such a fit over the U.N. Security Council making a resolution, the United States supporting that resolution, and our lawmakers going "Now wait a minute, you have to come and ask us about this"?

O'DONNELL: Not at this stage. We haven't really seen this kind of objection at this stage. This is purely political objection at this stage.

BREWER: Does the President need to get up there tonight and truly lay out "Alright, here's the goal. And if we achieve this goal, then we've accomplished it and we're out of there. And here's how we get out of there"?

O'DONNELL: Well, he's not going to be able to give a so-called exit strategy. Especially because he has cast this as a humanitarian mission, that's the way he's described it from the start. He's saying it's to avoid a bloodbath. They have done that. They have avoided the bloodbath. How long they have to stay there, to continue to avoid a bloodbath is unclear, because as soon as they leave, as soon as they stop doing this, there's no reason why Quaddafi wouldn't go and do what he was planning to do anyway.

BREWER: And what about Robert Gates saying on "Meet the Presss" well no, Libya's not really in our vital interest.

O'DONNELL: This is a semantic trick, this national interest thing. This has become the media's obsession and politicians' obsession, because what they're looking for is a doctrine. We like doctrines in foreign policy. The world is now beyond a doctrinal organization. We have a chaotic world in which there are moments where the United States can help and moments when it can't. You know, what's the doctrine that says when there's a nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, the United States navy will go and help. There is no doctrine that says that. That is a voluntary humanitarian act on the part of the United States because it can. And so this is a situation where the truth of it is, the President is doing this because we can. And that doesn't fit a doctrine, so it's an uncomfortable thing for him to say.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014