President Obama has pushed for closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay since literally his first week in office. And for just as long, Congress has pushed back in the opposite direction.
After five years, the White House has finally inched closer to its goal. Adam Serwer reported last night on a rare congressional victory for Obama’s long-sought policy.
Tuesday evening, the Senate defeated an attempt by Republican New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte to add an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act that would have barred transfers of Gitmo detainees to U.S. soil for detention, trial or medical treatment. […]Ayotte didn’t even get a simple majority for her bill – let alone the 60 votes she needed to add the amendment to the bill under an agreement reached by Senate leadership on the amendment process. Her amendment went down, 43-55. The fact that Ayotte couldn’t get a majority on her side strengthens Senate Democrats’ hand heading into conference.
In recent years, federal lawmakers – including a few too many Democrats, by the way – have placed inflexible restrictions on the Obama administration, which wants to transfer detainees from Guantanamo as a precursor to closing the detention facility altogether. The Senate’s version of the Defense spending bill lifts most of those restrictions, empowering the White House towards its goals.
Ayotte sought to keep the restrictions in place, and a bipartisan majority easily rejected her effort.
“It’s a really big win,” Chris Anders, an attorney with the ACLU, told Serwer. “I think a lot of it is due to President Obama and the Defense department and the White House making very clear that this is something they are now determined to get done.”
It’s not yet a done deal. The House version of the Defense bill, not surprisingly, leaves the restrictions in place and seeks to tie the president’s hands on the issue. Because the Senate bill differs, the issue will now head to a conference committee.
But between the Senate vote and the administration’s lobbying efforts – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel personally connected with lawmakers recently, explaining the broad benefits of transferring detainees and closing the detention facility – critics of the status quo like their chances.