Congress is inching towards closing the controversial prison for terrorism-related detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
On May 14th, a bipartisan group of Senators in the Senate Armed Services Committee approved an agreement struck by Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) that would grant President Barack Obama the authority to close Guantanamo Bay, so long as Congress has final authorization.
In a show of bipartisan support, the measure was added to the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA), which then passed the Senate Armed Services committee with a 22-4 vote.
This is the first time that members of both parties have moved forward on a plan to allow the President to close the prison.
The Senate measure still faces Congressional hurdles. On Friday, the House rejected the bill with the Guantanamo provision in it, forcing a showdown with the Obama administration, who has said that it will veto any bill that doesn’t include language to close the prison.
And even if supporters manage to include the Guantanamo measure in the final bill, there’s still no guarantee that Congress will approve an Obama administration plan to close the prison.
Despite the House’s rejection of the Senate’s measure to close Guantanamo, supporters of the plan are working behind the scenes to win the House’s approval.
A staffer with knowledge of the negotiations told Business Insider that the strong bipartisan support for the measure in the Senate could encourage members of the House to get onboard with the measure when the bills are reconciled later this summer.
For its part, the Obama administration has started ramping up efforts to close the prison before the president’s term ends. The administration hasmaintainedthat it will veto any NDAA bill without the measure to close Guantanamo, though administration officials have alsoreportedlybegun exploring options for closing the prison through executive action.
At the same time efforts to close the prison are debated in Congress, the administration is also also moving to release prisoners. According to the Washington Post, the administration plans to release 10 prisoners as early as June. The Post reports that the Pentagon is aiming for releasing the 57 prisoners cleared for transfer by the end of the year.
Since Obama signed an executive order to close Guantanamo Bay, the primary point of friction between the administration and Congress has been the transfer of prisoners. Opponents of the administration’s plan to close Guantanamo worry that some prisoners who have been detained for years could be released and return to terrorism.
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