Senate Democrats Face Tough Choice on Funding for Gitmo Closure

Senate Democrats face a tough choice as they decide whether to revive funding for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

The senators are caught between President Obama and House Democrats, who on Monday rebuffed the administration's request for $50 million for relocating prisoners by keeping the money out of a war funding bill.

The charged rhetoric from Republicans is not helping any.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been hammering the White House and congressional Democrats for weeks, raising the question of where the prisoners are going to be placed once the island prison is shuttered -- something Obama says must happen by Jan. 22, 2010.

McConnell on Tuesday called the prisoners "some of the most hardened terrorists in the world," and then handed the microphone to Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who escalated the GOP warnings.

Chambliss, a member of both the intelligence and armed services committees who has been to the prison camp, echoed McConnell's criticism and said Americans don't want these prisoners in their backyards.

Chambliss said he intends to introduce legislation that would block funding for the release of any Guantanamo 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-Iowa, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he does not understand what all the fuss is about.

Harkin said a small group of his Democratic committee colleagues met this morning to talk about the action on the House side.

"I think the support is there to save the money for closing Gitmo," Harkin said.

"I never could understand about why people are afraid of these (detainees) being in jail," he said. "You know, it's like, they can't 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 that Iowa does not have a maximum security federal facility to house detainees, but 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-Nev., studiously avoided committing to the funding. He said it "would be better if we had specifics," but said he wanted to speak to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., first.

Reid said no decision had yet been made "whether we're going to keep it in or take it out" of the war funding bill.

As to whether it's still possible to close Guantanamo Bay by the president's deadline, Reid said: "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 Tuesday night.