The Senate-passed, $607 billion National Defense Authorization Act, among its other provisions, bans the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to mainland American prisons. This would effectively checkmate President Obama’s plans to close the Gitmo detention facility.
The NDAA passed the Senate on a 91-3 vote. The House previously passed it 370-58.
“The president plans to send Congress a blueprint for fulfilling his campaign pledge to close the U.S. prison in Cuba,” reports the Associated Press. “But the plan is widely expected to be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill, with Republicans and some Democrats opposed to any move to detain some of the terror subjects on U.S. soil.”
This naturally raises concerns that Obama will attempt to bypass the congressional ban with executive orders, especially since the White House says he has not changed his position on closing Guantanamo Bay.
“We know he’s contemplating it,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
“This is not something the American people want to see happen with Guantanamo, and so the president needs to follow the law and the law is very clear on this,” adds Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). She said Obama would clearly be “violating the law” if he tried closing Gitmo with an executive order.
At a news conference covered by the New York Times, Ayotte noted bipartisan opposition to closing Guantanamo. “Even when the Democrats controlled the Senate, there have been provisions that have prohibited the transfer of the terrorist detainees at Guantánamo to the United States of America,” she said. “So this discussion that you’ve seen from the administration to say that the president is contemplating an executive order on this issue clearly would violate the law.”
The AP notes especially vigorous opposition to Obama’s plans from representatives of Colorado, Kansas, and South Carolina – the states most likely to receive transferred terrorist detainees if Guantanamo Bay is closed.
The Washington Post notes that at one point, the NDAA was supposed to include plans to close Guantanamo. Senate Armed Services chairman John McCain (R-AZ), who supports closing the facility, complained that the White House dragged its feet too long on providing details for such a plan, evidently expecting the Senate to insert it “at the eleventh hour.”
The Post notes that some Republicans took this curious lassitude about an ostensibly important Obama agenda item as a hint that the President wanted to make it happen through executive orders, rather than working with Congress.
Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) called that possibility “outrageous and egregious,” an “overstep” and “abrogation of the executive’s power.”
“Why do we even have a Congress, if the president can issue an executive order on anything and in this particular case, endanger our national security? Then what are we even doing here?” Roberts asked.