Republicans ready for final face-off with Obama over Gitmo
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Congressional Republicans are gearing up for a final legislative fight against President Obama’s plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Republicans want to lock in restrictions on detainee transfers that would undercut the administration’s chances of fulfilling its goal of closing the facility before the president leaves office in January.


GOP lawmakers are planning to use an annual defense policy measure, as well as separate appropriations bills, to cement restrictions on detainee transfers — including the ban on moving detainees into the United States.

The administration has been able to slowly winnow down the number of detainees at Guantanamo Bay by transferring some people to other countries.

But the White House’s plan to close the facility includes moving some detainees into the U.S., a proposal already prohibited by current laws and likely to be shut down by new legislation. 

The House will make its first move to re-up restrictions in an annual defense bill.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is expected to include many of the current restrictions in his committee’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

A committee staffer told reporters Friday that there were no plans for major changes to restrictions, such as “constructing facilities in the United States or transfers overseas or to the United States.” 

The staffer added the legislation also maintains bans on transfers to certain countries, including Syria and Yemen. 

The bill will provide a test for Obama: Either sign the legislation — which would lock in restrictions until after he leaves office and well into the first year of a hypothetical Clinton administration — or veto the historically bipartisan bill.

Myles Caggins, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said a repeal of the current restrictions is “essential to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo.”

While the Senate Armed Services Committee won’t start work on its version of the NDAA until early next month, the president is unlikely to find more support in the upper chamber.

Republicans on the committee have shown no signs they are willing to loosen the current restrictions.

“I think the best way to characterize what we’re going to do in the NDAA is we’re going to do all we can. We’re going to try to get very strong provisions in there ... We’ve always been successful before,” Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeChamber of Commerce endorses McSally for reelection Overnight Defense: Top admiral says 'no condition' where US should conduct nuclear test 'at this time' | Intelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings Top admiral: 'No condition' where US should conduct nuclear test 'at this time' MORE (R-Okla.) told The Hill. “I anticipate we will be again.”

Asked what restrictions he would like to see, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate GOP aims to confirm Trump court pick by Oct. 29: report The Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting Senate GOP sees early Supreme Court vote as political booster shot MORE (R-S.C.) separately said, “I like what we’ve got, and I support Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteBottom line Bottom line Bottom Line MORE’s bill.”

Ayotte introduced legislation earlier this month that would permanently ban the transfer of detainees into the United States and prohibit permanently closing Guantanamo Bay. It would also temporarily ban transfers of detainees to other countries — a move that would go far beyond the current restrictions on transfers to just a few countries.

The New Hampshire Republican’s proposal is one of a handful that GOP senators have introduced as the administration continues to transfer detainees out of Gitmo.

Most recently, the administration announced that it had transferred nine detainees to Saudi Arabia ahead of the president’s visit, leaving 80 detainees still at Gitmo. The move only appeared to antagonize Republicans.

“Continuing to release these dangerous terrorists is reckless, and poses a serious threat to our troops, our allies, and our country,” Ayotte said in a statement this week.

Meanwhile, senators are also including Guantanamo restrictions in their annual appropriations bills.

The appropriations bill for the departments of Justice and Commerce, passed by the committee this week, would block any of the funds from being used to build alternative locations to house the detainees within the United States.

An appropriations bill for military construction and Veterans Affairs includes similar language.

“The bill does not allow modification of Guantanamo Bay or construction of facilities to house detainees in the U.S., which prevents terrorists from moving to U.S. soil,” Sen. Mark KIrk (R-Ill.) said in a statement about the military construction-VA bill.

The GOP’s dual-pronged approach underscores the uphill climb Obama faces if he wants to close the facility before he leaves office.

Caggins added that the administration is prepared to work with Congress on its plan to shutter Guantanamo Bay, which would “strengthen relationships with key allies and eliminate a key jihadist propaganda tool.”

The White House has also left the door open to unilaterally closing Guantanamo and moving detainees into the United States without Congress. But administration officials — including Attorney General Loretta Lynch — have said that Obama will need lawmakers to lift the current restrictions. 

GOP leadership in both chambers supports keeping the facility open. Most Democrats support closing Guantanamo Bay, but they've repeatedly voted for the current restrictions and have been reluctant to say if Obama can close the facility without Congress.  

Inhofe, Graham and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain endorses Biden: He's only candidate 'who stands up for our values' Biden says Cindy McCain will endorse him Biden's six best bets in 2016 Trump states MORE (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, suggested the president won’t able to close the facility.

McCain, one of the few Republicans who supports shutting Guantanamo Bay, blamed Obama for the inaction, saying the administration’s recent proposal isn’t a “plan.”

“I think there would be some if the president had a plan, but they’ve never submitted a plan to us,” he said, asked if Republicans could support lifting any of the current restrictions.

Inhofe added that lawmakers have been unswayed on the issue since Obama and Congress had a similar fight over the NDAA last year.

“The president has three legacies left in a short period of time, and that’s one of them. And he just wants to do that, in my opinion, for the wrong reason,” he said. “I don’t think any minds have really changed.”