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Senate Bill Puts Guantanamo on Path to Close

Levin said the defense authorization bill will have only a weeklong debate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Levin said the defense authorization bill will have only a weeklong debate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted Thursday to give President Barack Obama the authority to close the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, unless veto-proof majorities in Congress object.  

Announcing the results of the annual marathon closed markup of the defense policy bill, Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., announced language related to the Guantanamo facility and transfer of detainees to U.S. soil.  

“It’s a very significant change, and what we’ve done now is we’ve created a path to close … Guantanamo,” Levin said. “We also make sure that if the president gives us a plan to do that, that we will have an opportunity to veto that plan. It’s not technically a veto. We will have an opportunity to say no to that plan, and then he will have an opportunity to say no to our resolution of disapproval.” If the committee gets its way, closing Guantanamo would be a bit like a process used in recent years to raise the debt limit.  

That process, first proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., puts the onus on the president for a debt ceiling increase.  

Like that McConnell proposal, the defense authorization would set up a process allowing for quick for action to rebuff any potential Obama proposal to shut down the Guantanamo Bay facility, but Obama could ultimately veto the disapproval resolution.  

As with other situations where Congress can reject administration proposals, like agency regulations under the Congressional Review Act, the odds would be overwhelmingly against the legislative branch being able to stop Obama from closing the facility, since it would require a two-thirds vote of each chamber to override a veto.  

“There’s something called ‘expedited process’ which we’ve used in the Congress to make sure that you can get to a vote, so you can get by a filibuster,” Levin said. “That expedited process is what … will be used in the event that there is a plan to close Guantanamo, or at least it’s available to be used.”  

“If it is used, and if Congress, both houses, then vote against the president’s decision to close Guantanamo, then if that happens the president will have an opportunity to veto that joint resolution of disapproval,” said Levin.  

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement Wednesday evening declaring that Obama “will veto” the final fiscal 2015 defense policy measure if it “continues unwarranted restrictions regarding Guantanamo detainees.”  

The House passed its version of the defense measure earlier in the day on Thursday, with a 325-98 vote. That measure would continue the blockade on closing the prison facility , with House lawmakers turning back an amendment to lay the groundwork for shuttering it by the end of 2016.