Democratic Senate hopefuls are keeping their distance from a last-ditch effort by President Obama to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison before he leaves office.
The White House says closing the controversial facility is at the top of the president’s to-do list, but candidates in key swing states are raising national security concerns or sidestepping the issue altogether.
The move to break away from Obama comes as Democratic hopefuls are coming under fire from Republicans, who want to paint them as weak on terrorism and link them to the unpopular policies of the administration.
“I don't think there's any clearer indication of how much of a loser the president's national security policies are than how fast Democratic candidates run away from them,” Greg Blair, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told The Hill.
Democrats downplay any talk that campaigns are distancing themselves from the White House. But the only front-runner in the four races that will likely decide the battle for the Senate to endorse Obama’s plan is former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak.
“We must close the facility for good and bring the detainees to justice in a way that is true to our values and strengthens our security,” he said in a statement to The Hill.
Sestak’s primary opponent Katie McGinty, former chief of staff to Gov. Tom Wolf, is still reviewing the plan.
McGinty isn’t the only Democrat who is staying on the fence. Former Sen. Russ Feingold, who is hoping for a reelection match against Sen. Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonPollster: Clinton leads in 5 battlegrounds Juan Williams: GOP sounds the sirens over Trump Vulnerable Republican seeks edge on homeland security MORE, (R-Wis.), toldWisPolitics.com in a statement that he was reviewing the plan.
Johnson and national Republicans have repeatedly hit Feingold over his support for Obama’s foreign policy, including the Iran nuclear deal and reestablishing diplomatic ties with Cuba.
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) has also long backed closing Guantanamo, but her office didn't respond to questions about whether she specifically supports Obama's plan.
While many Democrats say they need more time to study the plan, Republicans on Capitol Hill quickly and resoundingly rejected it. That included the handful of blue-state Republicans crucial to keeping Senate control.
Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, suggested that Republicans were falling into the party line rather than seriously studying the administration’s plan.
“Republican incumbents should take a page from Democratic candidates who feel it’s important to review an issue and come to an independent conclusion rather than falling in line with a knee-jerk partisan reaction,” she said in a statement to The Hill.
But not every Democrat has been willing to hold their fire over Obama’s proposal to close the controversial Cuban facility.
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan and former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, both Democratic establishment favorites in key Senate races, are refusing to support the plan, saying it doesn't do enough to keep their constituents safe.
Aaron Jacobs, Hassan’s campaign communications director, noted that the plan doesn’t “include provisions for how to deal with terrorists captured in the future” or include details on where in the U.S. detainees will be sent.
The administration’s blueprint, instead, recommends roughly a dozen alternative locations, which led Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCainJohn McCainBush World goes for Clinton, but will a former president? GOP senator: Trump could lose Arizona Senate panel passes bill that would create 4K visas for Afghans MORE (R-Ariz.), who is also up for reelection, to compare it to a “Chinese menu.”
Hassan previously faced backlash from her party for breaking with the administration over Syrian refugees as national security became a top issue in her battle with Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteSenator calls for pause in accepting Syrian refugees after Istanbul attack GOP Senate super-PAC reserves M in airtime Pollster: Clinton leads in 5 battlegrounds MORE (R-N.H.).
“I think my constituents very clearly don’t want terrorists coming back in the fight,” Ayotte told reporters this week. “New Hampshire constituents also don’t want these terrorists brought to the United States of America.”
Strickland, separately, in a statement to The Hill said that he has “a lot of unanswered questions” and would withhold his support until he got answers.
Former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is withholding her support for Obama's plan as she runs to succeed Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidOvernight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans Senate passes Puerto Rico debt relief bill Senate gets deal to speed up Puerto Rico bill MORE (D-Nev.) in a race Republicans see as a top pick-up opportunity.
She says only that “Congress must continue to have a role in this process and that any decision of this magnitude should be arrived at in a bipartisan manner.”
Some Democratic senators have been quick to praise the president’s push to close the facility, but less eager to weigh in on the details.
Sen. Michael BennetMichael BennetCruz-backed candidate wins GOP primary in Colorado Colorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open Ted Cruz chooses sides in Colorado Senate primary MORE (D-Colo.), the Senate's most vulnerable Democratic incumbent, quickly stressed that while he wants to close Guantanamo Bay, he was unswayed by any plan that opens the door for detainees being sent to Colorado.
“I’ve repeatedly said I do not support the transfer of prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay military facility to Colorado,” he said in a statement. “I believe military detainees should be held in military prisons. Colorado does not have that type of facility. This plan has done nothing to change my mind.”