GOP chairman offers bill to block Gitmo's return to Cuba

Gitmo, Guantanamo Bay
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House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) introduced legislation on Thursday that prohibits President Obama from returning the Guantánamo Bay naval station back to Cuba without Congress's permission.

"The U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay is a critical national security and foreign policy asset for the United States," Royce said in a statement.  

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"Congress specifically provided the president the authority to acquire Guantanamo Bay from Cuba, and Congress should have a role in any decision to relinquish it," he said. 

The move comes amid growing Republican fears that the administration will seek to return the base, which houses the Guantánamo detention facility, back to Cuba during the president's trip there later this month. 

"In just a few weeks, President Obama will meet with the communist government in Cuba," Royce said. 

"The White House says our Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay is 'sure' to be a part of discussions. While giving the base to the Castro regime may not be a part of 'this trip,' as the White House insists, its long record of one-sided concessions and lack of transparency over Cuba policy makes me very concerned about the status of this key Naval Station," he said. 

When asked at a Feb. 18 White House briefing about discussions with Cuba over the base, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters he was “sure that will be part of the discussion.”

Rhodes also said the issue “is not on the table as part of our discussions,” but said, “I’m sure they will raise it. It continues to be an issue of concern to them.”

Still, Republican lawmakers have called those and other comments qualified and unclear. 

The administration is also seeking to shut down the detention facility before it leaves office in January, against fierce Republican opposition. 

Meanwhile, Cuban leaders have pressed the administration to transfer the base to Cuba, as part of the administration's efforts to normalize relations with the communist nation.  

Royce said doing so could cede a vital national security tool to Russia, which has ties to Cuba. 

"That is why I'm introducing this important legislation to ensure that Americans and their representatives in Congress have a say in the future of the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay," he said. 

"Too much is at stake for our president to unilaterally cede this base to a Castro regime that denies its people basic rights and freedoms, while allying with governments hostile to U.S. interests," he said.