White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the National Defense Authorization Act would not affect prisoners already approved for transfer out of the Guantanamo Bay prison. Rough Cut (no reporter narration)
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a sweeping defense policy bill on Tuesday (November 10) and the White House said President Barack Obama is likely to sign it, despite provisions that make it more difficult to close the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Senate vote was 91-3 in favor of the measure, which authorizes more than $600 billion in defense spending and includes $5 billion in cuts not in an earlier version of the bill that Obama vetoed last month. Obama, who has vowed to close the prison before leaving office in 2017, had said the Guantanamo language was one reason he vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act, known as the NDAA, last month. But Obama's main reason was a dispute with the Republicans who control Congress over spending, which was resolved in a two-year budget deal Obama signed into law last week. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said there are too many important provisions in the defense bill for another veto. "My understanding is that the legislation, the Gitmo legislation that is included in this version of the NDAA is quite similar to what the language has been included in previous NDAA's. So while it would make certain parts of that process a little more cumbersome than they otherwise would need to be, it shouldn't affect our ability to continue to transfer those individuals that have been approved for transfer," said Earnest. Together with extending a ban on transferring Guantanamo detainees to the United States, the bill imposes new restrictions on transfers to third countries, including Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia. Even lawmakers who want to close the Guantanamo prison, such as Republican Senator John McCain, have expressed frustration that Obama, who has been in office since 2009, has not yet sent Congress his plan for closing it. Obama is expected to submit a plan this week. It will face stiff resistance, especially from Republicans in Congress, and there has been talk that he might resort to an executive order to close the prison. That suggestion infuriates congressional Republicans, many of whom consider Guantanamo essential for the detention of suspected foreign militants. Obama and lawmakers who favor closing the prison, mostly his fellow Democrats, view it as a damaging symbol of abuse and detention without charge. When asked on Tuesday about a possible executive order, Earnest said the White House's focus now is on getting Congress to consider its plan. The House passed the NDAA last week by 370-58. That margin, like the vote in the Senate, far exceeds the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto.