Defense Department file photo

White House Could Use Executive Action to Shutter Guantanamo

Press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama “would not take anything off the table” to close the prison.

Pres­id­ent Obama prom­ised on the cam­paign trail in 2008 to close the pris­on at Guantanamo Bay. He vowed to do it again on his second day in of­fice. And he’s re­af­firmed the pledge many times since. Now, with the pris­on still open, and the pres­id­ent’s time in of­fice wan­ing, he may take uni­lat­er­al ac­tion to make it hap­pen him­self.

“We would like to work with Con­gress where we can,” White House press sec­ret­ary Josh Earn­est told re­port­ers Wed­nes­day. But if the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plans “con­tin­ue to be re­buffed,” he said, “I wouldn’t rule out the pres­id­ent us­ing every ele­ment of his au­thor­ity” to close the pris­on—in­clud­ing ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion.

The pres­id­ent ve­toed the Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act last month partly be­cause it would have re­stric­ted the trans­fer of de­tain­ees held at Guantanamo. The latest ver­sion of the le­gis­la­tion, a cru­cial de­fense bill, main­tains that lan­guage. While Earn­est stopped short of prom­ising an­oth­er veto, he said the White House has con­cerns about the bill’s obstacles to clos­ing the pris­on.

Though the ad­min­is­tra­tion wants Con­gress’ sup­port on the ef­fort, Earn­est said, the pres­id­ent “would not take any­thing off the table” to close Guantanamo. And Earn­est railed against Con­gress “play­ing polit­ics” with what he called a “sig­ni­fic­ant threat to na­tion­al se­cur­ity.

“What’s the polit­ic­al be­ne­fit that the pres­id­ent ex­pects out of this? The pres­id­ent isn’t play­ing polit­ics with this,” Earn­est said, ur­ging law­makers to do the same. “Let’s set aside par­tis­an polit­ics when we con­sider it.”

Earn­est also de­clined to provide a timeline for when the plan to close the pris­on would be re­leased, des­pite his claim back in Ju­ly that it was in the “fi­nal stages.”