Boehner: Guantanamo could be deal breaker on Afghan funds

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 17, 2009 

WASHINGTON — House Republican Leader John Boehner warned on Thursday that he wouldn't back emergency funding for President Barack Obama's Afghanistan troop surge if the White House request includes money to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the U.S.

"I am not going to support a bill that — that facilitates bringing Gitmo prisoners to the United States," he told a news conference, using a popular shorthand for the military prison.

The White House on Tuesday said it plans to move some war on terror detainees held in prison camps at Guantanamo, in southeast Cuba, to a maximum-security prison in northern Illinois.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment late Thursday. But there was no indication whether the Obama administration would join together its requests for funding 30,000 to 35,000 additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan and moving Guantanamo detainees to Illinois.

Boehner's warning came a day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke out about funding for Obama's most important foreign policy initiative, a plan expected to elicit a White House request for $30 billion to $40 billion.

On Wednesday, Pelosi, D-Calif., said she isn't going to personally lobby war-weary House Democrats to support a funding measure for the Afghan surge because she promised her caucus that the previous supplemental war appropriations bill would be the last. Obama, she said, must make his own case.

Pelosi's stance was a political flesh wound, but Boehner's position, if adopted by House Republicans and if Obama included funding for the Guantanamo transfer with funding for the Afghan surge, could prove a deeper cut for the White House and its Afghan strategy. Should Obama not win over the support of antiwar Democrats, he'd need a solid bloc of the House's 177 Republicans and a sliver of conservative Democrats to obtain House passage of a war supplemental package.

Lawmakers expect the White House request to pay for the Afghan surge to be made early next year. When war funding was voted on in May, 51 Democrats opposed the bill, but it passed largely because 168 Republicans supported it.

Obama received high marks from many Republicans for his decision to deploy additional troops to Afghanistan, although they have raised concerns about the president's intention to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011.

Several Republicans were also highly critical of Obama's intention to empty the war on terror prison camps at Guantanamo Bay and prosecute some terrorism suspects in U.S. civilian courts.

Obama's Republican critics became more annoyed when the administration announced plans Tuesday to transfer some detainees from Guantanamo to a nearly vacant prison in Illinois.

Boehner estimated the government would need about $500 million to transfer the Guantanamo detainees.

A spokesman for Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Joe Shoemaker, responded: "I'm not sure who slipped what into Congressman Boehner's eggnog, but that's some strong stuff! Throwing out pie-in-the-sky costs . . . seems to be the order of the day from the Republican leadership.''

The White House didn't say in its announcement how much the move to the Illinois prison would cost.

Boehner said he's with Obama on Afghanistan and doesn't want to build roadblocks to funding the surge — unless Guantanamo money is added.

"Denying the Taliban and al Qaida a safe haven in Afghanistan from which to train, plan and execute attacks on Americans here and abroad cannot . . . be allowed to happen," he said. "We've got to get these troops in there as quickly as possible.''

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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