WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House insisted on Wednesday that President Barack Obama has the legal authority to press on with U.S. military involvement in Libya and urged skeptical lawmakers not to send "mixed messages" about their commitment to the NATO-led air war.
Obama administration officials, sending a lengthy legal justification to Congress, argued that the president had the constitutional power to continue the U.S. military role in Libya even though lawmakers had not authorized it.
Tensions between Obama and Congress over the Libya conflict reflected unease among some lawmakers over U.S. entanglement in a third conflict in the Muslim world along with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and pressure for him to clarify U.S. goals in the north African country.
The White House's defense of Obama's Libya policy followed a warning on Tuesday from House Speaker John Boehner that Obama was skating on thin legal ice by keeping U.S. forces involved in Libya for nearly three months without direct congressional approval.
Boehner accused Obama of "a refusal to acknowledge and respect the role of Congress" in military operations and a "lack of clarity" about why the U.S. was still involved in Libya.
He asked Obama to explain the legal grounds for the war by Friday, adding that by Sunday Obama would be in violation of the 1973 War Powers Resolution if nothing changed.
The U.S. Constitution says that Congress declares war, while the president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Senior administration officials argued that Obama was not in violation of the War Powers Resolution because U.S. forces, which initially spearheaded the assault on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's air defenses in March, had pulled back to a support role in the NATO-led campaign in early April.
"We believe that it's important for Congress not to send mixed messages about a goal that we think most members of Congress share," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters earlier.
(Writing by Matt Spetalnick, additional reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)