House Republicans ready legal fight against Obama's Guantanamo plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in the House of Representatives are preparing legal action in case President Barack Obama tries to transfer detainees at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay to the United States, House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Wednesday.

Ryan told reporters it would be against the law for Obama to bring detainees from the prison in Cuba to the United States, because it would violate a ban on such transfers passed by Congress in 2015.

He was speaking a day after the president, seeking to make good on a pledge he made in 2008 before he was first elected to the White House, launched a final push to persuade Congress to close the military prison for foreign terrorism suspects.

The Pentagon-authored plan proposes 13 potential sites on U.S. soil to hold some 30 to 60 detainees in maximum-security prisons. Obama is also considering taking executive action to close Guantanamo, situated at a U.S. naval station in southeast Cuba, if Congress does not drop its opposition.

“Our law is really clear,” Ryan told reporters after a meeting of House Republicans. “These detainees cannot come to American soil.”

“We are making legal preparations if the president tries to break the law,” Ryan said. “And what boggles my mind is that the president is contemplating directing the military to knowingly break the law.”

The speaker said that Obama is trying to extend the president’s executive authority beyond its limits of the U.S. Constitution. Ryan added that not only Republicans but also many in Obama’s own Democratic Party oppose detainee transfers to U.S. soil.

Democrats accused House Republicans of wasting taxpayer dollars on litigation. In recent years the House Republican majority has spent nearly $3 million in this way, said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

House Republicans have spent $189,498 since November 2014 on litigation challenging the administration’s Obamacare healthcare program, and recently agreed to spend up to $150,000 on legal advice on the possible Guantanamo litigation, Pelosi’s office said.

A spokesman for Ryan, Brendan Buck, defended the spending, saying “we wouldn’t have to spend so much money if the president wasn’t overreaching.”

Pelosi’s office said that under former House Speaker John Boehner, House Republicans spent $2.5 million defending a law that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples, before the language was struck down by the Supreme Court.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Writing by Eric Walsh; Editing by Susan Heavey, Frances Kerry and Steve Orlofsky