By Molly K. Hooper - 11/19/09 02:59 AM EST
House GOP lawmakers pledged on Wednesday to use all legislative means
available to thwart the White House from bringing suspected terrorists
held at Guantanamo to the United States.
But as a minority party with a 40-plus-seat deficit, Republicans may have little sway on the ultimate outcome.
"We will not stand by as your adminisration defies the will of the American people and brings these terrorists onto U.S. soil," a sentiment expressed in a joint letter to the president signed by ranking members of Armed Services, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.); Judiciary, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas); Intelligence, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.); Appropriations, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.); Justice Appropriations subcommittee, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.); and Homeland Security, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.)
Hoekstra formally introduced a discharge petition to force Democrats to hold a vote on GOP-sponsored legislation that effectlvely would bar the administration from transferring more than 200 prisoner detainees held at Gitmo to the United States.
Bypassing Democratic leaders, however, would require all 177 House GOP lawmakers to sign onto the petition, as well as 41 Democrats, in order to reach the 218 signatures, a majority of the House.
Lawmakers in the majority party rarely sign discharge petitions because they can be seen as publicly rebuking their leaderships, a legislative no-no for ambitious pols.
One-hundred-sixty-nine GOP lawmakers co-sponsored the “Keep Terrorists Out of America” Act, which would place stringent restrictions on where the administration could relocate the enemy combatants in light of the president's executive order last January to close the notorious detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within one year.
Holder told a Senate panel on Wednesday that the administration would not likely make that deadline, but that they were still intent on closing the facility as soon as possible.
Wolf, ranking member of the subcommittee that funds the Justice Department, said he was going to offer a motion that would ban funding for relocating enemy combatants to the U.S.
Though the House approved a similar motion in early October, it did not include language prohibiting the transfer or release of Gitmo detainees to the U.S. for the purpose of prosecution in civilian court.
In October the House passed the non-binding motion to ban funds for relocating detainees 258-163, with 88 Democrats voting against their leadership.
But now that it appears as if the administration has its sights set on transferring prisoners to a largely unused state prison in Illinois, cautious lawmakers fearful that their districts may end up with some suspected terrorists may feel more emboldened to vote against such a GOP motion, some worry.
“I think it’s easier for them because now it’s the president’s home state, it’s not in their backyard, so yeah. But the principle is still the same, we’re bringing (suspected terrorists),” said Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), an appropriator.
Even though the White House refuses to confirm its intentions regarding Thompson Correctional Facility, located 150 miles outside of Chicago, administration officials made a special visit to the vacant facility on Monday.
Illinois’s Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and senior Sen. Dick Durbin (D) applauded the prospect of using the wasted facility designed to house dangerous prisoners.
According to the AP, Quinn said on Wednesday that it was “probably” going to happen.
Lawmakers within Illinois’s lower chamber delegation remain split over such a plan.
Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) would not support sending the suspected terrorists to Thomson Correctional Faciility – located in the district that borders her northern Illinois base.
In a statement released on Wednesday night, Bean said, "I remain opposed to transferring Guantanamo detainees to Illinois, or anywhere in the U.S., while awaiting more detailed information on what’s being proposed, including potential security threats and plans for resolving detainees’ final status. As of yet, I have seen neither."
Illinois Republicans wasted little time denouncing the idea that they believe would compromise national security.
One lawmaker, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), told The Hill that Obama was dangling the idea of job creation to a hard-hit town at the expense of security.
"(Constituents) see it for what it is: Illinois become a dumping ground. This administration couldn't pull off getting us the Olympics so they bring us al-Qaeda,” Roskam said.
Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.), who represents Thomson, a town suffering severely in the economic climate, says that the opportunity of increasing jobs does not compare to the security risks that would be incurred by his district.
Chicago-based Democratic Rep. Danny Davis embraced the idea of transferring prisoners to his state.
“If somebody’s got to bite the bullet on a tough decision I think the people of Illinois are ready for it and if it comes to Illinois the detainees will be well taken care of and the citizens well protected.”
But Republicans in the lower chamber find the prospect of biting that bullet a hard one to swallow, period -- especially since they say the administration has refused to share any plans or discussions on closing Gitmo with them.
“Whatever we can do legislatively to slow this down and stop it is going to help restore and return America to its sanity. Unfortunately, we’ve taken leave of our senses, I believe, with the decisions over the last several months by this administration,” King (R-N.Y.) told a roomful of reporters and television cameras.
In the meantime, House GOP lawmakers vowed to keep up the heat on the administration and in the public.