Senate Democrats are in a difficult position, between the President and their House Democratic colleagues, as they decide whether or not to revive funding for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (GTMO), and the rhetoric from Republicans is not helping them any. House Democrats chose to leave out the $81 million the Administration is seeking in this year's war funding bill that would be set aside for closing GTMO, pending a detailed plan for doing so submitted to Congress by the President.
Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, has been hammering the White House and Congressional Democrats for weeks wanting to know where the prisoners are going to be placed once the island prison is shuttered, something President Obama said must happen by Jan. 22, 2010.
On Tuesday, McConnell called GTMO prisoners "some of the most hardened terrorists in the world," and then handed the microphone to Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-GA, who turned up the heat.
Chambliss, a member of both Intelligence and Armed Services Committees who has been to GTMO, echoed the leader's criticism and said Americans don't want these criminals in their back yards. He said he intends to introduce legislation blocking funding for any release of these prisoners into the U.S. "so Americans can take some security in the fact of knowing that if these individuals are transferred to U.S. soil that they're not going to be released in their neighborhoods where they're going to immediately form cells where they will seek to kill and harm Americans." Sen. Tom Harkin, D-IA, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, said he does not understand what all the fuss is about. He is ready to set aside the $81 million, though he is not sure this will happen on the emergency war funding measure known as the supplemental.
Harkin said a small group of his Democratic committee colleagues met this morning to talk about what happened on the House side. "I think the support is there to save the money for closing GTMO," Harkin said.
"I never could understand about why people are afraid of these people (GTMO detainees) being in jail. You know, it's like, they cant go anywhere. You put them in security. Do they think they're going to create some kind of activity outside the prison? I mean, that never made sense to me. They're in jail. they're in jail."
Harkin noted Iowa does not have a maximum security federal facility to house detainees, but he said he would not oppose them being sent to Iowa. "If we had a big federal prison or something, that wouldn't bother me any," Harkin said. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, studiously avoided committing to the funding to the supplemental. He said it "would be better if we had specifics," but said he wanted to speak to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, first. Reid said no decision had yet been made "whether we're going ot keep it in or take it out" of the war funding bill.
As to whether or not it's still possible to close GTMO by the President's deadline, Reid left little doubt. "I think it's very possible, but let's just wait and see. Now, there are a lot of things easier said than done."
Reid is set to meet with Pelosi tonight.