Senate showdown on Guantánamo
© Getty

Republicans are headed for a showdown over closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The Senate is debating an annual defense policy bill that contains language allowing President Obama to close the facility and transfer detainees to the United States if he can get a plan approved by Congress.

While the bill would still give Congress the final say, some Republicans are fiercely opposed to any move toward shuttering the prison camp, which was opened after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, for terrorism suspects captured overseas.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeTrump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing Trump says US will not sell Turkey F-35s after Russian missile defense system purchase Warren spars with Trump's top Defense nominee over ethics MORE (R-Okla.) has filed amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would strip out the section allowing for the administration to submit a plan, along with another section that allows for detainees to be temporarily transferred to the United States for medical treatment.

Inhofe could face an uphill battle in getting his changes approved. The Guantánamo provisions garnered broad bipartisan support in the Senate Armed Services Committee, winning adoption in a 19-7 vote. 

But that vote also split Republicans, underscoring the disagreements in the party about what to do with the controversial facility and its detainees.

Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff Ocasio-Cortez fires back at Lindsey Graham: 'Graham wants to bring back 1950s McCarthyism' Meghan McCain knocks Lindsey Graham for defending Trump's tweets: 'This is not the person I used to know' MORE (Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump digs in ahead of House vote to condemn tweet Why Trump's bigoted tropes won't work in 2020 The Memo: Toxic 2020 is unavoidable conclusion from Trump tweets MORE (S.C.), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand FAA nominee advances to full Senate vote Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown MORE (Miss.), Mike Rounds (S.D.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Dan Sullivan (Alaska) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate ratifies long-stalled tax treaty On The Money: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency | Tech giants on defensive at antitrust hearing | Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses Liberal think tank: GOP paid parental leave proposals are too narrow MORE (Utah) voted for the Guantánamo plan on the committee. But, Inhofe, as well as Sens. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump's no racist; he's an equal opportunity offender Press: Acosta, latest to walk the plank The Hill's Morning Report — Trump retreats on census citizenship question MORE (Ala.), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteKey endorsements: A who's who in early states Sinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race New Hampshire senator to ask 2020 Dems to back repeal of state residency law MORE (N.H.), Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerOn The Money: Labor secretary under fire over Epstein plea deal | Trump defends Acosta as Dems call for ouster | Biden releases tax returns showing steep rise in income | Tech giants to testify at House antitrust hearing GOP senators decline to criticize Acosta after new Epstein charges The Hill's Morning Report - Trump and House Democrats resume battle MORE (Neb.), Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonLawmakers introduce bill to block U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei Five things to know about Iran's breaches of the nuclear deal Hillicon Valley: Trump gets pushback after reversing course on Huawei | China installing surveillance apps on visitors' phones | Internet provider Cloudflare suffers outage | Consumer groups look to stop Facebook cryptocurrency MORE (Ark.), Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGoogle official denies allegations of ties to China The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Cruz in 2016 said 'something fundamentally wrong' with Christians who back Trump: book MORE (Texas), voted against it.  

Inhofe’s amendments have yet to be scheduled for a vote, and are among hundreds of changes that senators have proposed to the bill. Still, he expressed confidence his proposals will reach the floor next week.

“We talked about the amendments that we had,” Inhofe said, when asked if he had spoken with McCain, who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee. “He’s encouraging people to get their amendments in, and I feel confident just by the way that it’s going that I’ll be able to get both of my amendments up for consideration.”

Asked about the changes of passing his amendments, Inhofe replied: “We have a large group that’s very interested.”

Even if Inhofe is unsuccessful on the floor, he vowed to take the fight to the conference committee that would negotiate a final bill between the House and Senate.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is running for president, also wants to curb Obama's ability to relocate detainees, by blocking any transfer to a country that the State Department has issued a travel warning against. A similar measure failed to gain enough support in committee.

McCain, who is up for reelection in 2016 and has long called for the administration to give lawmakers a role in closing Guantánamo Bay, touted the language in the bill as a “bipartisan compromise.”  

“If a plan is approved, the Congress would provide the president with the authority to proceed with closure,” he said. “If the Congress does not approve the plan, nothing would change.”

McCain brushed aside questions about whether he was concerned that his Republican colleagues could try to undermine his proposal by adding additional restrictions.

“They can try to amend it,” he said. “I’m glad to consider anything they would like to propose.”

McCain isn’t just facing pressure from other Republicans, but also the administration, which has threatened to veto the legislation and criticized the Guantánamo provisions as infringing on the president’s powers.

“The Administration strongly objects to provisions of the bill that would impede efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,” the White House said in a statement. “While the bill would relax certain of these restrictions if Congress approves a plan to close the facility by joint resolution, this process for congressional approval is unnecessary and overly restrictive.”  

The administration has threatened to veto the annual defense bill in the past, but has never followed through on the threat. Obama is running out of time to carry out his campaign pledge to close the prison, however. 

The 2016 defense bill will last through the end of Obama's term, meaning that if he allows Congress to place additional restrictions, he would effectively block himself from being able to close the facility.

But, Republicans aren’t the only ones wanting to make changes to the policy bill’s Guantánamo provisions.

Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedTrump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing Trump says US will not sell Turkey F-35s after Russian missile defense system purchase Pentagon chief nominee: 'We need to get back on the diplomatic channel' with Iran MORE (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, called the provision allowing for a plan to close the facility “an example of bipartisan works at its best,” though he remains critical of other parts of the legislation.

He said that he would work to get a deal with Republicans to remove some of the certification requirements in the bill, which place additional hurdles on the administration before it can transfer detainees out of Guantánamo.

Citing what he said was a “burdensome check list of certifications,” Reed added, “these provisions make it nearly impossible to transfer Guantánamo Detainees overseas.”