WASHINGTON — Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts on Wednesday placed a hold on President Barack Obama's nominee for the secretary of the Army to prevent the White House from taking executive action to close Guantanamo Bay and transfer detainees to the United States.
Roberts and the five other Republican lawmakers who make up the congressional delegation from Kansas issued a joint statement, condemning what they said was the Obama administration's refusal to rule out taking executive action to close the prison in Cuba.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday that Obama wants to work with Congress to close Guantanamo Bay, but "if Congress continues to refuse," the president will explore all other options.
Closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was a theme of Obama's 2008 campaign and he voted in 2009 to eventually shutter the facility, which he argues is costly and gives extremists a recruiting tool.
Earnest said the White House was preparing to release the Obama administration's plan to close the prison. Earnest would not say exactly when the plan would be released, but congressional sources have said they expect it within days.
Earnest told reporters during his regular briefing that there are three groups of detainees: Those cleared for transfer to third countries; those who can be prosecuted; and a group that is deemed too dangerous to transfer and cannot be effectively prosecuted. He said it's this third group that the administration is considering transferring to places in the United States where they could be securely held.
"Our prison system has already demonstrated the ability to house and detain convicted terrorists," Earnest said.
Earnest said the White House does not think Congress has justly evaluated ways to close the prison and there is an open question as to whether it will consider the new proposal fairly.
"I think what Congress will receive — without getting into the detail — is a carefully considered, thoughtful proposal for closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay," he said.
Hinting at possible executive action, Earnest said he wouldn't take anything off the table when it comes to the president doing everything he can to close the prison.
"I'm certainly not a lawyer, and I say this without any sort of knowledge in the back of mind about what those options would be if there are even any," Earnest said. "... but if Congress continues to refuse, I wouldn't rule out the president using every element of his authority to make progress" on closing the prison.
Law currently bans detainees from being transferred to U.S. soil, but facilities in several states, including Kansas, South Carolina and Colorado have been discussed.
"Threatening to shut down Guantanamo Bay by executive action shows President Obama's blatant disregard for the law," Roberts said. "Congress has consistently stopped Obama by law from moving a single detainee to the U.S., and this would be an egregious overstep by the administration ignoring the will of the American people to accomplish the president's legacy goals."
He said he has placed a hold on the president's nominee for the Secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning, and vowed to put holds on any nominee to prevent the president from taking unilateral action.
The other members of the Kansas delegation — Sen. Jerry Moran and Reps. Lynn Jenkins, Mike Pompeo, Tim Huelskamp and Kevin Yoder, all expressed opposition to the White House stance on the issue.