WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congress will probably be able to stop the Obama administration from bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to U.S. soil, the Republican leader in the U.S. House of Representatives said on Thursday.
Representative John Boehner said at least at least two pieces of legislation would have to go through Congress before the U.S. government can move any of the detainees to an Illinois prison — and he doubted either bill would pass.
“I wouldn’t want to bet on when those two pieces of legislation will pass, if ever,” Boehner told reporters.
The Democrats have a majority in both houses of Congress, but lawmakers in both parties are nervous about President Barack Obama’s pledge to close the prison camp at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba that houses foreign terrorism suspects.
This week the administration said it planned to buy an Illinois prison and move some Guantanamo detainees there.
But current U.S. law bars Guantanamo detainees from being brought onto U.S. soil unless they are going to be prosecuted. Boehner suggested that provision would need to be changed.
The Ohio Republican said the administration would also need to get congressional approval to fund the prison project.
The White House, responding to Boehner’s comments, said President Obama would work with Congress to close Guantanamo.
“Our military leaders — many who also served under the previous administration — have said that closing Guantanamo will help our troops in the fight against al Qaeda,” said White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage.
“President Obama will work closely with Congress until we have closed Guantanamo and removed the deadly recruiting tool for al Qaeda that it has come to be,” she said.
Boehner warned the White House not to try to force Congress to approve Guantanamo transfers by attaching them to legislation supplying funding for the war in Afghanistan.
If that happened, he wouldn’t vote for the war funding, something he said he would otherwise support.
“I am not going to support a bill that facilitates bringing Gitmo prisoners to the United States,” Boehner said, adding that he thought his caucus was united on the issue.
With serious unrest among Obama’s Democrats over the controversial war, the president likely needs the votes of Boehner and other Republicans to approve additional funding for his recent decision to 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
The next round of war funding legislation is not likely to be considered before the spring.
Guantanamo was opened in 2002 and the United States holds 210 prisoners there. Attorney General Eric Holder said this week that buying Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois would help close the facility in Cuba, perhaps by summer.
Editing by Anthony Boadle and Eric Walsh