By John Celock
While a group of Kansas Democrats described the effort as defaming President Barack Obama, the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives on Monday overwhelmingly approved a resolution objecting to any plan to move Guantanamo Bay detainees to the state.
The House voted 104-16 saying that the state did not want Obama to move the detainees to Fort Leavenworth. The outcome was not a surprise as lawmakers overwhelmingly gave preliminary approval to the resolution last week. House Democrats use the explanation of vote period Monday to criticize the wording of the resolution and say that it was a political ploy by Republicans.
“I vote no because it defames our president,” Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) said in an explanation that was endorsed by other Democrats. “How can we expect him to consider our resolution when it says he undermines our standing in the world?”
Ward was citing part of the resolution that said that Obama has “sought to weaken our standing in the world” as his main objection. Ward said that Kansans do not support terrorism but he does not see the resolution’s wording helping to keep the detainees out of the state. Ward said that he drafted a “less inflammatory letter” that he sent to Obama.
During last week’s debate, Ward had tried to gut the resolution and replace it with one that would have called on a ban on allowing those on the terror watch list from buying guns. The amendment was rejected by the House Rules Committee, which said it was not germane. Ward then launched into an objection towards the Rules Committee, saying the committee was blocking amendments the House Republican leadership did not want to see considered. The committee had said that the amendment was not germane since the resolution dealt with Guantanamo detainees and terrorism and not guns and terrorism. Blocking those on the terror watch list is objected to by gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, which say the list is assembled without due process.
Rep. Boog Highberger (D-Lawrence), who had cited the Obama language during last week’s debate, said on Monday that the resolution “unnecessarily insults the president of the United States.” He said he did not believe that the House was trying to get Obama to consider the resolution.
“It is clear from the language of the resolution that it is not a good faith act on behalf of Kansans,” Highberger said. “It is an act of political theater.”
Rep. Annie Kuether (D-Topeka) described the resolution as a “waste of taxpayer money” saying that lawmakers should have focused on other issues. Resolutions such as the one passed in Kansas are common in many legislative bodies, seeking to influence federal policy. The resolutions have also been common in county and municipal legislative branches seeking to push policy objectives at the state and federal levels.
Supporters of the Gitmo resolution largely did not take to the floor to give explanations of vote on Monday. Traditionally explanations of vote are dominated by those objecting to item being voted on.
During last week’s debate, supporters said that lawmakers should tell Obama that the detainees should not be sent to Fort Leavenworth because it would put the state at risk. House Veterans, Military and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mario Goico (R-Wichita) told lawmakers last week that other countries have said the would not send their troops to study at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth if the Guantanamo Bay detainees are moved there. Goico noted that local officials in Leavenworth told his committee that the detainees’ presence would hurt the local economy.
Rep. Tony Barton (R-Leavenworth), who has been pushing the resolution, took to the floor Monday to explain that the resolution needed to be passed to send a message to Obama that lawmakers did not want the detainees sent to the state. He noted that the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 prohibited the detainees from being moved to U.S. soil, and said that the resolution can reiterate that message to Obama.
“The president by law is prohibited from closing Gitmo and bringing the detainees on to American soil,” Barton said.