The US Senate on Tuesday approved a $607 billion defense spending bill that includes provisions that will make it difficult for Barack Obama to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
While Obama had vetoed an earlier version of the bill, the new version passed by a 370 to 58 vote in the House of Representatives and 91 to 3 in the Senate. Bernie Sanders, who is running to be the Democratic presidential candidate, was one of the three senators voting against the bill.Even the new bill has provisions in it that would ban transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. The administration has been studying possible locations for prisoners in the U.S., includeing a "Supermax" facility in Florence, Colorado, designed for very dangerous inmates. The restrictions in the bill would prevent transfer of detainees to the U.S. even for prosecution as well as continued detention. There are also tighter restrictions on transferring detainees to other countries. Obama's plan was to transfer 53 of those remaining in the facility to other countries and to send the 61 remaining prisoners to the U.S. In spite of the roadblocks put in place by the U.S. Congress, the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, insisted the Obama administration would continue to work towards closing the prison. Closing Guantanamo has been a key unfulfilled promise of Obama from the beginning of his term of office. Earnest was optimistic:Josh Earnest commented on the executive order issue:Among the specific expenditures authorized were $300 million for military aid in Ukraine. The bill also grants a request from Obama for $715 million to be used to fight the Islamic State in Iraq. There was also a further expenditure of $80 billion in a separate bill that passed 93 to 0. The bill was for veteran's programs and military construction projects. The White House has affirmed that Obama will sign the bill in spite of the retention of provisions that make it difficult for him to close Guantanamo as well as minimal spending reductions. Both houses have sufficient votes to overcome a veto in any event.
“I don’t think this has any material impact on our ability to put together and send to Congress a thoughtful, carefully considered plan for closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and a plan that we believe merits the strong support of both Democrats and Republicans.”Senate Republicans such as Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire were critical and warned Obama against any attempt to circumvent Congress saying:
“Even when the Democrats controlled the Senate, there have been provisions that have prohibited the transfer of the terrorist detainees at Guantánamo to the United States of America. So this discussion that you’ve seen from the administration to say that the president is contemplating an executive order on this issue clearly would violate the law.”
"I'm not aware of any ongoing effort to devise a strategy using only the president's executive authority to accomplish this goal. But I certainly wouldn't, as I mentioned last week, take that option off the table."The new bill cuts less than 1 percent from the previous bill. There was bipartisan agreement that the U.S. needed to spend the money to maintain and upgrade U.S. military capacities due to threats against American interests throughout the globe. As Republican Senator John McCainput it: “We must champion the cause of defense reform, rigorously root out Pentagon waste, and invest to maintain our military technological advantage, and that is what this bill is about."