By Martin Matishak - 12/14/14 12:00 PM EST
President Obama is unlikely to go against the will of Congress and unilaterally shutter the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, lawmakers from both parties predict.
“I don’t know that he can,” Sen. Tim KaineTim KaineDems to Clinton: Ignore Trump on past scandals Sanders: Clinton shouldn't pick VP from Wall Street Kaine: Dem discord could start to hurt Clinton soon MORE (D-Va.) said. “I know that there are enough congressional restrictions on the books that limit his options.”
“This is where Congress has stated pretty clearly, ‘You can do this, but you can’t do that,’ ” Kaine told The Hill. “I think he’s got pretty clear guidance about what his limits are.”
“I don’t know what his authority is in this area,” Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinDems to Clinton: Ignore Trump on past scandals How airport security lines got so bad Dem senators call for sanctions on Congo MORE (D-Ill.) said.
But Obama’s “intentions are clear. His efforts are non-stop,” he added.
The Defense Department has been working in recent years to try and move detainees out of the detention facility. The Pentagon last week announced the transfer of six detainees to Uruguay, bringing the total number of prisoners remaining at Guantánamo to 136, down from a high of roughly 700.
Obama has promised to close the detention facility before he leaves office, which would fulfill a pledge he made during the 2008 campaign.
"We're working on it," Obama said while when asked when the prison would close during a visit to a bookstore over Thanksgiving weekend.
But congressional opposition to such an action remains strong.
Last week, retiring House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) fired off a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck HagelChuck HagelHagel says NATO deployment could spark a new Cold War with Russia Overnight Defense: House panel unveils 5B defense spending bill Hagel to next president: We need to sit down with Putin MORE expressing concern that about half of the current prison population, 68 detainees, have been cleared for transfer, pending the Pentagon chief’s approval.
"The release of these detainees raises considerable questions and concerns about the risk to Americans," McKeon said.
Democrats at times have tried to help Obama’s push to close the prison.
Retiring Senate Armed Services chairman Carl LevinCarl LevinCarl, Sander Levin rebuke Sanders for tax comments on Panama trade deal Supreme Court: Eye on the prize Congress got it wrong on unjustified corporate tax loopholes MORE (D-Mich.) included a provision in his versions of the fiscal year 2015 defense authorization act (NDAA) that would have sped up the facility’s closure by allowing the Defense secretary to move detainees from Cuba to the U.S.
But that language was dropped in the negotiations between House and Senate lawmakers over the compromise version of the legislation that passed Congress this week.
“We pushed hard to get the Senate provision adopted,” Levin said recently. “We could not get the Republicans.”
Levin suggested that if Democrats had kept pressing the Guantánamo issue “there wouldn’t be a bill” at all.
The final defense bill keeps in place a number of existing prohibitions, including bans on transferring detainees to the U.S. and on constructing new detention facilities on U.S. soil.
If Obama were to throw caution to the wind and move forward, Democrats and Republicans predict he would encounter vigorous opposition.
“We’ll use every procedure that is available to us,” Sen. James InhofeJames InhofePaul blocks chemical safety bill in Senate GOP senators propose sending ISIS fighters to Gitmo Overnight Defense: VA chief 'deeply' regrets Disney remark; Senate fight brews over Gitmo MORE (Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services panel, told The Hill.
He added that Obama “has an obsession to close Gitmo. An obsession.”
Inhofe emphasized the GOP will control both chambers of Congress next year and could include language blocking executive action on the prison to policy and spending bills. Stand-alone legislation on Guantánamo is also possible, he said.
“We will have Republicans in charge and we will do what we can to use that resource to save American lives.”
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamSenators to Obama: Make 'timely' call on Afghan troops levels Senate amendments could sink email privacy compromise Trump: Romney 'walks like a penguin' MORE (R-S.C.) blasted the detainee transfers, saying Obama is “letting people out who are dangerous. “
“He doesn’t have the political ability to convince the Congress and the American people to close it so he’s trying to do it in a very absurd way,” Graham said.
“In January of next year you can see a full-scale assault by the Congress on this policy to empty this prison,” he vowed, adding that if the president tried to go it alone, “you’ll have a constitutional crisis on your hands.”
Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsSessions: Ryan 'needs to' endorse Trump soon GOP senator: 'I would consider’ being Trump’s VP Senate panel delays email privacy vote amid concerns MORE (R-Ala.) said the president “made an improvident campaign promise and he’s determined to try to execute it.”
“Where we are, if the president could have used executive powers, he would have already used them,” he told The Hill.
The Democrat who will take the ranking position on the Senate the Armed Services Committee next year, Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedSenators push to authorize 4,000 more visas for Afghans Groups urge Senate to oppose defense language on for-profit colleges Reid throws wrench into Clinton vice presidential picks MORE (R.I.), said the “best way” to close Guantánamo would be through legislation.
He said one of the reasons Democrats couldn’t close the prison this year was a lack of time in work on the defense bill.
“We didn’t have a chance to bring amendments to the floor. Hopefully next year we can start earlier,” Reed said.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert MenendezRobert MenendezDems pressure Obama on vow to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees Lobbying World This week: GOP lawmakers reckon with Trump MORE (D-N.J.) said Obama would face mostly GOP opposition to executive action on Guantanamo but “there might be some Democrats” who also object.
Durbin gave a similar response when asked if members of the president's own party would oppose such a move.
“Some might, but I wouldn’t,” he said.