Obama administration officials say they plan to reject Congressional efforts to limit the president's options on Guantanamo, setting the stage for a confrontation between the president and the new Congress on an issue that has been politically divisive since Inauguration Day.
The Guantanamo provisions, which include limits on where and how prisoners can be tried, were attached to a spending bill for military pay and benefits approved by Congress late last year. White House aides are recommending that President Obama sign the spending bill and then issue a "signing statement" challenging at least some of the Guantanamo provisions as intrusions on his constitutional authority.
The statement, officials said, would likely be released along with a new executive order that outlined review procedures for some -- but not all -- of the 174 Guantanamo prisoners still held without charge or trial.
Obama has used signing statements in the past, but this one would carry political significance as the first test of his relationship with a Congress in which the House is firmly in Republican control.
Officials said the White House is still weighing how to calibrate the signing statement. A statement rejecting all of the bill's Guantanamo provisions would almost certainly be viewed as provocative by Congressional Republicans and some Democrats. But administration officials view the provisions as clear encroachments on the president's right to prosecutorial discretion and some are pushing for their blanket repudiation.
The reliance on detention orders and a signing statement -- tools used repeatedly by former President Bush, who built Guantanamo nearly a decade ago -- is seen by Obama's advisers as among the few options left for an administration that has watched the steady erosion of its first White House pledge nearly two years ago: to close the prison.
"There is obviously an irony here," said one Obama administration official, "but if we resort to this, it is to close Guantanamo, not keep it open."
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