By Susan Crabtree - 12/10/10 04:31 AM EST
Incensed over President Obama’s tax compromise, House Democratic leaders are showing signs of abandoning the administration and going their own way on critical issues such as national security.
In a striking move, the Appropriations Committee late Wednesday attached a provision to a $1.1 trillion resolution to keep the government funded next year that would prevent Obama from spending any funds to try terrorism suspects in civilian court instead of military commissions.
Some House Democrats viewed the move as an act of defiance and a direct demonstration of just how furious the caucus is with Obama’s decision to work with Republicans to extend the Bush-era tax cuts.
But many other Democrats, including Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), a member of the defense appropriations subcommittee, said they didn’t even know the provision was included.
Moran’s anger with the president boiled over in a short interview Thursday with The Hill about the provision and the tax debate held shortly after the Democratic Caucus voted to reject Obama’s tax-cut deal.
“This is a lack of leadership on the part of Obama,” fumed Moran (D-Va.) “I don’t know where the f*** Obama is on this or anything else. They’re AWOL.”
Most Democrats didn’t know the provision was included in the continuing resolution until the rule for the bill hit the floor, when liberal members began defecting in large numbers. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), a leading voice on national security issues, and the four top Democrats on the Judiciary Committee found out during the vote on the rule, Moran said.
At one point, the rule governing the bill was hanging by just one vote while Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rushed around the floor doing damage control.
Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, with the help of congressional Democrats, had previously beaten back any attempt to prevent detainees from being tried in civilian courts, arguing that they needed flexibility in deciding where to try the terrorist suspects.
Republicans, who have long opposed closing Guantánamo Bay, were stunned by what appeared to be a 180-degree turn by House Democratic leaders on the issue.
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), the incoming chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said Democrats realized that they were losing on the issue of closing Guantánamo Bay as poll after poll showed the idea was unpopular with the majority of Americans.
“[House Democratic leaders] wanted to get out in front and take credit for it,” King said in an interview. “This really was a sneak attack. By the time I got on the floor last night people were realizing it was in there and there was a lot of panic going on.”
Pelosi’s office did not return a request for comment.
Assistant to the Speaker Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said he didn’t agree with the provision but thinks the majority of the Democratic Caucus opposes the administration’s efforts to shutter the detainee facility.
“That particular provision is not a good idea because it ties the president’s hands,” said Van Hollen. “But I think the majority of the caucus supports it.”
In fact, in May the House Armed Services Committee unanimously approved a defense authorization bill that banned spending money to build or modify any facility inside the United States to house Guantánamo detainees.
Holder on Thursday called on the Senate majority and minority leaders to strip away the provision in the continuing resolution passed last night.
He called the move an unprecedented grab of executive authority by Congress.
”We have been unable to identify any parallel … in the history of our nation in which Congress has intervened to prohibit the prosecution of particular persons or crimes,” he wrote.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the intelligence committee, has supported Obama’s efforts to shut down the prison facility in Cuba in the past, but hesitated when asked what she thought of the House move to add it to the continuing resolution.
“I don’t think it’s a necessary provision,” she said. “I don’t know why it was included. I need to get to the root of it.”
Chris Anders, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the decision to add the provision to the spending bill seemed like it was very tightly held and caught the administration flat-footed.
“It came as somewhat of a surprise to the administration,” he said. “They did not make a comment on it until the Justice Department came out with a letter this afternoon.”
House Democrats may have been feeling added pressure on the issue since the director of national intelligence issued a recidivism report to Congress earlier this week, which said five of the 69 detainees transferred to other countries form Guantanamo Bay by the Obama administration are believed to have rejoined terrorist groups.
The vast majority of the 598 detainees released from the prison since it was opened in 2002 were transferred under the Bush administration, either to their home countries or to other nations. In all, 150 detainees, or 25 percent, are confirmed or believed to have rejoined the fight, the report said.