TOPICS > Politics

Congress Debates Gitmo Prisoners, Credit Cards, Guns

May 20, 2009 at 6:15 PM EDT
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Kwame Holman reports on the day's Capitol Hill debates, which included resistance to the president's plan to close Guantanamo Bay and passage of a credit card reform bill to protect consumers that included a measure legalizing guns in national parks.
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KWAME HOLMAN: In the Senate, the issue was the president’s request for $80 million to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. But with a 90-6 vote, lawmakers delivered an emphatic rebuke to the president’s plan, barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S.

Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), Texas: Before setting a deadline to close this camp at Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. naval base where they have been secured from which there have been no escapes and no attempts to escape, before setting that deadline, the American people must be assured that the transfer or release of these detainees will not increase the risk to American citizens at home or abroad.

KWAME HOLMAN: Lawmakers’ concerns were bolstered by FBI Director Robert Mueller, who testified at a House hearing today that bringing detainees into the U.S. could pose a number of risks.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI Director: The concerns we have about individuals who may support terrorism being in the United States run from concerns about providing financing to terrorists, radicalizing others, with regard to extreme — violent extremism, the potential for individuals undertaking attacks in the United States. All of those can — all of those are concerns.

A more detailed closing plan

KWAME HOLMAN: But a top Pentagon official, Michele Flournoy, said it was unrealistic for members of Congress to think the U.S. could ask allies to take detainees without accepting some, as well.

Meanwhile, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the controversy over where to put Guantanamo detainees was overblown.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), California: I believe that this has really been an exercise in fear-baiting. I hope it's not going to be successful, because I believe that American justice is what makes this country strong in the eyes of the world.

American justice is what people believe separates the United States from other countries. And American justice has to be applied to everyone, because if it isn't, we then become hypocrites in the eyes of the world. We should return to our values. And one of the largest symbols of returning to these values is, in fact, the closure of the facility at Guantanamo Bay.

KWAME HOLMAN: But this afternoon at the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs was pressed about the Senate's blunt rejection of the Guantanamo funding.

ROBERT GIBBS, White House Press Secretary: We understand and agree that, before resources are handed down, the Congress deserves more details in a plan.

For many years, there have been a patchwork of ad hoc legal theories that have maintained our detention system. We know that court cases are coming every day that are rendering different judgments about what legal standards there are in this country, the values that we have to uphold, and we're taking all of that into account in making decisions about how to close Guantanamo Bay.

Credit card reform passed

KWAME HOLMAN: Across the Capitol, the House took up sweeping legislation expanding the rights of credit card holders, which was approved overwhelmingly by the Senate yesterday. The measure puts unprecedented limits on the ability of credit card companies to raise interest rates and fees.

New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney praised the bill.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D), New York: Today, our families are being hard hit in this economy, and some credit card companies are hurting our families by arbitrarily raising interest rates and changing the rules to increase their profits. This bill will put an end to these practices.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling warned the bill would put more of a burden on those with good credit.

REP. JEB HENSARLING (R), Texas: And we already see that we are in the midst of a huge credit contraction, Mr. Speaker. At a time when Americans are struggling to pay their mortgages, to pay for their groceries, to pay their health care cost, why -- why would we want to make credit more expensive and less available? It is the completely wrong policy.

Pro-gun provision passed

KWAME HOLMAN: Beyond the credit card bill, lawmakers also debated an unrelated provision added by pro-gun senators. It gives people the right to carry concealed firearms inside national parks.

Most Democrats opposed the idea. California's Sam Farr.

REP. SAM FARR (D), California: This is a dumb amendment, and Congress should be embarrassed that we have to vote on it. People go to the national parks for a specific purpose: to enjoy the serenity of wildlife. Now you're going to have some gun nut come in there and see something rustling at night and decide that maybe, "Oh, I'm being attacked by a wild animal, or maybe, you know, something's going on out in the bushes." There are going to be problems with this.

Some Democrats backed gun law

KWAME HOLMAN: But Republicans and some moderate Democrats backed the proposal. Washington state Republican Doc Hastings said it would clear up confusing policy.

REP. DOC HASTINGS (R), Washington: The fact is that American gun-owners are simply citizens who want to exercise their Second Amendment rights without running into confusing red tape.

Opponents of this amendment will also call it unprecedented, far-reaching, and radical, but the fact is it merely puts national parks and refuges in line with current regulations of national forest lands and Bureau of Land Management lands.

KWAME HOLMAN: In the end, the gun provision, along with the credit card bill, passed with broad support.

President Obama will address shortly all of today's congressional action. He's expected to sign the credit card legislation into law before Memorial Day, and tomorrow he will give a major speech on national security, including his plan for closing Guantanamo.