The House's No. 2 Democrat said President Obama was within his constitutional rights to swap five Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl but said he would have preferred if the president have given congressional leaders a heads-up before the deal went down.
"I think that would've been wise policy because this was a very significant and important decision," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday." Obviously it created some controversy."
Hoyer said that, at the very least, he would have liked the White House to have notified the top party leaders in the House and Senate, as well as the chairman and ranking members of the chambers' armed services and intelligence committees.
"Whether or not the law required the president of the United States, or his staff -- the national security adviser, [Defense Secretary Chuck] Hagel, whoever [to notify Congress of the swap beforehand] -- in my opinion it would've been much better, they would've been better advised to pick up the phone and inform" congressional leaders, he said.
Doing so, Hoyer said, also would have been politically beneficial to Obama because it would have helped tamp down criticism of the prisoner exchange because "it would've put people then in the immediate position of saying, no, don't bring a U.S. soldier home."
"I think they would've been more reluctant to do that than after the fact when the solider has been released."
Hoyer said such White House action would have been in the form of "notification, not consultation," adding that it "was not a violation of law by not doing it."
The National Defense Authorization Act calls for the president to give 30 days' notice when prisoners are released from Guantanamo Bay, where the five Taliban prisoners were held. But Democrats and some legal experts say the rule allows for some leeway.
"The president, in signing the Defense Authorization bill, as did President [George W.] Bush did on a regular basis, [included] a signing statement [that said], 'I'm signing the bill but I'm concerned and don't believe that it's appropriate for me to be constrained if in fact I believe it appropriate and timely to make a prisoner exchange," Hoyer said.
"I think the 30-day notice requirement that's in the law was inconsistent with the Constitution."
Republicans have chastised the president over reports that 80 to 90 administration and other personnel knew about the swap beforehand. Hoyer said the number didn't seem unusually large because the deal involved multiple agencies and departments, including the Defense and possibly State departments.
"This was a swap that occurred in a very short period of time that required a lot of logistics," he said.