The House on Thursday backed election-year legislation that temporarily would halt the transfer of more detainees from the U.S. naval prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The bill, which passed by a 244-174 vote, would bar the federal government from spending money on any Guantánamo prisoner transfers, even those to a foreign country. The ban would last until the end of the calendar year, or until a bill authorizing defense funding is signed into law.
The White House has threatened a veto, and the measure has no chance of becoming law. But the bill is an opportunity for Republicans to put Democrats on record on the issue in the weeks before the Nov. 8 election and use their votes against them in campaigns.
Within minutes of the vote, the House Republicans’ campaign committee sent out a news release with the headline, “Democrats vote to close GITMO and bring terrorists to U.S. soil (again).”
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The House undertook the legislation just a week after the prison disclosed that it had downsized by so many captives — there are currently 61 there — that it had closed one of it’s two penitentiary-style buildings at the sprawling Detention Center compound.
Republican backers of the bill said the transfers could allow some detainees to eventually return to terrorism and could threaten American communities when prisoners are transferred to prisons on U.S. soil.
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., said that when these prisoners are held in a U.S. jail or prison, “you have just put a target on every school, every business, every mall in that community.”
The White House argues Guantánamo weakens national security by draining resources and emboldening violent extremists. The administration says transfers occur only after a rigorous review. The Pentagon is still weighing which maximum security facilities could handle the remaining detainees.
After the vote, the White House said the House is playing politics.
“I understand the politics of this are tough, but when it comes to America’s national security, at some point that should rate higher on the priority list than an individual’s re-election prospects,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
According to a report released Wednesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 118 of 676 detainees transferred out of the prison, or 17.5 percent, have returned to fighting. It said that 30 of those 118 are dead.
The report said an additional 86 detainees are suspected of having returned to fighting, and four of them are dead.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the report underscored the need for the legislation.
Democrats said the legislation would strip Obama of his lawful authority over the prison.
“This bill is un-American and extreme,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York.
The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg contributed to this story from Washington, D.C.