Politics & Policy

Paul Ryan Warns Obama against Closing Guantanamo Bay

Speaker Paul Ryan at a news conference in the U.S. Capitol, November 5, 2015 (Win McNamee/Getty)

House speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) warned President Obama Tuesday against defying the lawmakers who have voted to prevent him from transferring prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to the U.S.

“He doesn’t have the authority to do it,” Ryan told Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin last night. “The law is the law. It’s just that clear.”

Obama vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act last month in the context of negotiations with outgoing Speaker John Boehner over the debt limit and the federal budget, but Congress maintained provisions preventing the transfer of Guantanamo Bay prisoners to the U.S. in the updated NDAA that passed the Senate yesterday. The president won’t veto the bill again, despite his criticism of those provisions, which leaves him in a tenuous position as he tries to make good on his 2008 promise to close the Guantanamo prison.

Ryan’s statement was a response to White House rumblings that Obama might close the facility unilaterally. “I’m going to protect the ability of the President to use his authority to move the country in the direction that he believes it should be headed,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday. “And particularly when it comes to an issue like . . . closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the president feels strongly about that and has made that a priority for some time. But right now, the focus of our efforts is on trying to get some congressional cooperation for a change on this issue.”

Earnest also attacked Democrats who have so far refused to go along with Obama’s desires, while expressing the hope that they might back the president’s plan to close the facility once they see its details. “That will, however, require Democrats and Republicans in the Congress to put the national interest ahead of their much more narrow and, in comparison, trivial political interest,” he said. “The only argument that we’ve heard from them is that they don’t want to face their constituents, and they don’t want to be on the receiving end of a disingenuous, politically motivated attack ad. And that’s fine. That is — they’re certainly entitled to make decisions based on their political interests. But it’s not what they were elected to do.”

Ryan emphasized that, like it or not, opponents of closing Guantanamo have the votes to thwart Obama. “We passed the bill in the House with 390 votes, well over enough to override a veto,” he said. “The Senate today passed this bill with 91 votes, well over what is necessary to override a veto. And the language is very clear that [he] can’t transfer the prisoners.”

— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.

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