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Administration lawyer: 'Hostilities' an 'ambiguous term of art'

It all depends on what your definition of “hostilities” is.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today on Libya -- pitting the administration’s lawyer who wrote the argument that the U.S. is not involved in “hostilities” in Libya against some senators -- would have been almost comedic if it weren’t so serious.

Harold Koh, the State Department lawyer defended the language, saying that the word "hostilities" in the War Powers Resolution is an "ambiguous term of art.”

That was after Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) challenged the contention that the U.S. was not in a shooting war in Libya.

On not seeking congressional approval, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) asked Koh if he is glad that the administration went down the route of "basically sticking a stick in the eye" of Congress, as it relates to Libya by not seeking Congressional authorization under the War Powers Resolution.

Koh essentially apologized. "Senator,” he said, “that was not our intent, and if you felt that stick was stuck that was not our goal."

He said he would have come up earlier for briefings. "I take responsibility," he said.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the committee’s ranking member, ripped into the Obama administration at the start of the hearing, saying the White House’s consultations with Congress have been "perfunctory, incomplete, and dismissive of reasonable requests." He said the Clinton administration on Bosnia worked much more closely -- in a “meaningful” way -- with Congress.

“There was no good reason why President Obama should have failed to seek Congressional authorization to go to war in Libya," Lugar said. "Presidents should not be able to avoid Constitutional responsibilities merely because engaging the people's representatives is inconvenient or uncertain.”

As for the “hostilities” argument, Lugar said, "The highly dubious arguments offered by the Obama Administration for not needing congressional approval break new ground in justifying a unilateral Presidential decision to use force."