How did the administration twist itself into this pretzel? In an interview with The New York Times, State Department legal advisor Harold Koh shed at least some light on the matter. Many administrations and legislators have taken issue with the War Powers Act, claiming it challenges powers inherent in the presidency. Others, such as Bush administration Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, have argued that the Constitution's plain declaration that Congress "shall declare war" does not mean what most readers think it means, leaving the president free to initiate all kinds of wars.
Mr. Koh has long opposed these interpretations, and in a way, even now, he remains consistent. Speaking for the administration, he still upholds Congress' power to declare war and the constitutionality of the War Powers Act. "We are not saying the president can take the country into war on his own," he told the Times. "We are not saying the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional or should be scrapped or that we can refuse to consult Congress. We are saying the limited nature of this particular mission is not the kind of 'hostilities' envisioned by the War Powers Resolution." (The House voted Friday to reject a bill authorizing the Libya operation but also voted against cutting off funding.)