Congressional Republicans expressed outrage Tuesday over President Barack Obama’s plan to transfer detainees from the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, prison facility to Thomson, Ill., and warned that Democrats in the House and Senate will pay a stiff price if they agree to the proposal.
Ownership of the Thomson prison could be transferred to the Justice Department by January, but the first vote on whether to allow detainees to be held indefinitely on U.S. soil — a key aspect of the proposal — might not occur until next September at the earliest, right as the 2010 elections enter the home stretch.
On Tuesday, House Republicans mounted unsuccessful efforts in the House Intelligence and Armed Services committees to force the White House to release documents related to the decision.
But Republicans said broader efforts in the House and Senate appeared unlikely for now. Instead, Republican aides said GOP lawmakers are content to continue their rhetorical war on the administration and Congressional Democrats.
“It’s an issue we defined very early on,— a senior Senate GOP leadership aide said, noting that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has given numerous speeches on the Guantánamo Bay situation since February.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said that the prisoner transfer plan, which is sure to play heavily into Illinois’ open-seat Senate election, would also hurt Democrats running in other parts of the country.
Cornyn warned the proposal “enhances a stereotype of Democrats being soft on national security,— which Democrats such as Sen. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) will have to address during their campaigns.
Cornyn and other leading Republicans were quick to launch blistering attacks on the administration and Democrats over the issue, and GOP aides said to expect them to continue with the harsh rhetoric for the foreseeable future.
Cornyn argued that the decision “forgets the lessons we were supposed to learn after 9/11— and that the government’s job is to “prevent future attacks and not just punish people after there’s dead bodies lying around.—
McConnell — who has orchestrated the GOP’s successful messaging campaign on Guantánamo Bay this year — argued that the decision would mean “the poor people of Illinois are going to be turned into a potential target for terrorist attacks.—
Rep. Mark Kirk (R), who is running for Senate in Illinois, called the decision an “unnecessary risk.—
“Without a vote, public hearing or detailed plan, the administration is moving quickly to force the citizens of Illinois to accept this unnecessary risk. The citizens of Illinois deserve better,— said Kirk, who has vacillated between being harshly critical of the proposal and offering more cautious criticism over the past several months.
Although a number of Democrats — including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) — were mum on the topic Tuesday afternoon, other Democrats hailed the decision.
“I have opposed measures to prohibit the transfer of detainees to federal prisons in the past because our facilities in the United States are clearly capable of securely holding detainees,— Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (Vt.) said. “Maximum security facilities are both safe and secure. President Obama is taking prudent steps to ensure we are able to finally close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. Doing so will make us safer and is critical to restoring our reputation as a nation of laws. I am committed to working with him to accomplish this goal, and I hope that others in Congress will join me.—
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who has been a major backer of the proposal to move detainees to Thomson, praised the decision in a joint statement with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D). “This move will have a tremendously positive impact on the local economy — creating more than 3,000 jobs and injecting more than $1 billion into the local economy. This is an opportunity to dramatically reduce unemployment, create thousands of good-paying jobs and breathe new economic life into this part of downstate Illinois,— the two Democrats said.
Rep. Mike Quigley (Ill.) also took Republicans to task, charging that they have used the debate over closing Guantánamo Bay to spread fear.
“I support the administration’s effort to close the ineffective facility at Guantánamo Bay and relocate some of the inmates to Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois. It’s a shame that the discussion up until this point has been dominated by fear-mongering instead of common sense, and those opposing this must recognize that the most dangerous homegrown and international terrorists are already safely held in the Midwest,— Quigley said.