Obama’s strong stand on Gitmo underscores two vital points. First, President Obama does not fear defunding America’s national security. Second, Obama does not fear Republicans in Congress.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has been authorized for five decades running. The current NDAA fully funds the military through a workaround measure, thanks to President Obama’s demands that a huge chunk of sequestration cuts come from defense funding. Now Democrats complain that the workaround measure isn’t good enough: Republicans should bust open the bank again.
But that’s not Obama’s main criticism of the NDAA. He has long had a bug in his ear with regard to Gitmo, which he feels has strengthened terrorists’ feelings about the evils of the United States. Given his recent moves to parlay with the Cuban dictatorship as well, Obama may want to hand Gitmo in totality back to the Cuban government. The fact that Obama would be willing to dramatically cut America’s military funding, even as Russia takes over Ukraine and Syria, as Iran gears up for a big regional military push, as China continues its aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, demonstrates Obama’s top priority is doing leftist work, not protecting the United States.
In fact, Obama’s choice to prioritize Gitmo above national security isn’t a choice at all: Obama wants America’s military slashed, and he wants Gitmo closed. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) agrees with Obama that Gitmo should be closed, but even he says that Obama has manipulated the process to create an impasse. According to Roll Call, McCain “has said the White House promised him a plan to close the prison, but has yet to present one. Without that, he has said he wouldn’t be able to find the votes to do what the White House wants.”
Now, normally, Obama’s nasty priorities would pose little threat to military funding: after all, Obama would be stymied by Republicans in Congress. And Obama has threatened to veto the NDAA before over Guantanamo; each time, Congress has called Obama’s bluff, and he has signed the bill into law.
But this time, the feeling is that Obama could be more serious. After all, with the legacy of Republicans folding on executive amnesty, the Iran deal, and funding for Planned Parenthood, among others, Obama probably feels he can leverage Gitmo out of existence. He believes that Republicans fear defense defunding more than he must – their constituents will hold them accountable, while he’s in pure “f*** it list” mode. He also thinks that Republicans are unwilling to undergo a head-to-head matchup with him under almost any circumstances.
And Obama is right. In his entire tenure as Commander-in-Chief, Obama has had to issue a grand total of four vetoes. Four. That’s less than every president since Chester A. Arthur, who filled out James Garfield’s term, serving less than four years. Obama has had a fully Republican Congress this year, and a Republican House since 2010. He has issued just two vetoes this year, one with regard to Keystone XL Pipeline, and the other with regard to a bill related to the National Labor Relations Board. All of his other major policy priorities have been guarded zealously by a Democratic minority or an unwilling Republican majority.
So why wouldn’t Obama try to hold Republicans’ feet to the fire on defense authorization?
Obama’s mastery of Congress is unprecedented in American history; the only other candidates for that title either held Congressional dominance within their own party (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) or ruled a Congressional rump (Abraham Lincoln). Shutting down America’s defense funding would be a crowning achievement for a president who cares more about weakening America’s role in the world than defending her citizens.