This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) to a Veterans Affairs Department funding bill that prohibited the measure’s funds from being used to transfer detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison to a facility in the United States. Since 2001, the federal government had held suspected terrorists at a detention center in Guantanamo Bay.
Gingrey urged support for his amendment: “…Transferring the detainees to the United States could eventually lead to their release on American soil, which would put our own citizens at risk. It could create significant immigration issues as aliens could become eligible for asylum or other forms of immigration-related relief from removal. It most certainly would make any facility where they are held a terrorist target.”
No members spoke in opposition to the amendment. 69 House Democrats, however – including most progressives – voted “nay.” Calls to Democratic offices seeking an explanation for their votes were not returned.
Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX), a key supporter of the veterans’ bill, said: “I do want to clarify that there is no funding in this bill of any type to fund any kind of facility to house detainees from Guantanamo. Having said that, I would be glad to support the gentleman's amendment.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), a staunch ally of the Obama administration and a supporter of closing the Guantanamo Bay facility, said this in 2009, as quoted by ABC News: "If we can safely hold these individuals, I believe we can safely hold any Guantanamo detainees who need to be held…no [terrorist] prisoner has ever escaped in the United States, period. Republicans also claim the administration wants to release terrorists in our communities, some kind of work release, walking around situation for terrorists. What an incredible charge, and patently false. President Obama has made clear that Guantanamo will be closed in a manner consistent with our national security."
A July 21 article in Roll Call entitled “Guantánamo Debate Has Gone Silent on Capitol Hill,” made note of the Democrats’ hesitancy to address Guantanamo. The article quoted House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) as saying: “That’s [Guantanamo] not an issue being discussed very broadly. I think that you’re not going to see it discussed very broadly in the near term.”
The House agreed to the amendment by a vote of 353-69. 182 Democrats and all 171 Republicans present voted “yea.” 69 Democrats voted “nay. As a result, the House agreed to an amendment to a Veterans Affairs Department funding bill that prohibited the measure’s funds from being used to transfer detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison to a facility in the United States.