President Barack Obama took the rare move Thursday of publicly vetoing a $612 billion defense spending bill, criticizing Republicans for resorting to “gimmicks” and preventing the administration from closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Obama sat alone at his desk in the Oval Office, holding a pen in his left hand as he denounced the bill that had passed Congress, saying he was sending it back because it keeps in place sequestration, a policy of automatic across-the-board spending cuts, and prevents closing the offshore facility.
He told reporters the legislation “specifically impedes our ability to close Guantanamo in a way that I have repeatedly argued is counterproductive to our efforts to defeat terrorism around the world” and he charged that the facility has become one of the “premier mechanisms” for the recruitment for terrorists.
He said he would ask Congress for a budget “that properly funds our national security,” and allows the U.S. to close the detention camp.
Republicans have accused Obama of holding the military hostage until Congress increases spending on his non-defense priorities and they accused him of playing politics and putting national security at risk.
“This indefensible veto blocks pay and vital tools for our troops while Iranian terrorists prepare to gain billions under the president’s nuclear deal,” House Speaker John Boehner said. “Congress should not allow this veto to stand.”
Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said the White House is confident it has the votes to sustain a veto. He said Obama vetoed the measure publicly because it feels strongly about it.
“He wanted to make sure that everyone understood that this congressional Republican approach, i.e. circumventing budget caps with gimmicks instead of fixing sequestration, is just not a responsible way of budgeting,” Schultz said.
Human Rights First hailed the move, calling the veto an “important step” toward closing Guantanamo. The bill that Obama vetoed would have extended a ban on transfers from Guantanamo to the United States - even for trial - until Dec. 31, 2016. It also included transfer bans to certain countries and reinstated requirements that Human Rights First said complicates most transfers.
The public veto signing is not unprecedented: Obama in March vetoed a resolution of disapproval of a National Labor Relations Board bill.