House GOP and Some Democrats Preparing to Slam Obama for Bergdahl Swap

The House Armed Services Committee will mark up a resolution Tuesday condemning the president for negotiating with terrorists.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) questions U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about the about the prisoner exchange that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl during a hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. The trade of Bergdahl for five senior Taliban officials has angered some members of Congress because they were not informed of the swap beforehand. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
National Journal
Billy House
July 24, 2014, 4 p.m.

House Re­pub­lic­ans are set to open an­oth­er front next week in their ef­forts to pub­licly re­pu­di­ate Pres­id­ent Obama — this time for his de­cision in May to ex­change five Taliban pris­on­ers from Guantanamo Bay for Army Sgt. Bowe Ber­g­dahl.

Only this time it won’t be a purely par­tis­an as­sault. Some Demo­crats have signed on with Re­pub­lic­ans to con­demn Obama for ap­prov­ing the pris­on­er swap.

House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Buck McK­eon says his pan­el will mark up a bi­par­tis­an res­ol­u­tion on Tues­day that ac­cuses Obama of dis­reg­ard­ing “Amer­ica’s long-stand­ing policy against ne­go­ti­at­ing with ter­ror­ists.”

The res­ol­u­tion will fur­ther de­clare that the trans­fer was in vi­ol­a­tion of a sec­tion of the Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act of 2014, which re­quires the sec­ret­ary of De­fense to no­ti­fy Con­gress at least 30 days be­fore the trans­fer of a Guantanamo de­tain­ee.

Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Scott Ri­gell of Vir­gin­ia is the spon­sor, along with GOP Rep. Re­id Ribble of Wis­con­sin and Demo­crat­ic Reps. Nick Ra­hall of West Vir­gin­ia and John Bar­row of Geor­gia.

“When the pres­id­ent takes his oath of of­fice, he is duty bound to fol­low the laws set by the Amer­ic­an people,” McK­eon said in a state­ment. “Here, his of­fice broke a law that was ori­gin­ally ad­op­ted by his own party in the Sen­ate, passed by a large bi­par­tis­an ma­jor­ity in Con­gress and signed by the pres­id­ent him­self.”

McK­eon ad­ded: “Just as the pres­id­ent must do his duty, so must Con­gress. Con­gress­man Ri­gell’s le­gis­la­tion sends the clear mes­sage that fol­low­ing the law isn’t op­tion­al.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion says that con­cerns about Ber­g­dahl’s de­teri­or­at­ing health played a role in its think­ing.

Ber­g­dahl, 28, went miss­ing on June 30, 2009, in Afgh­anistan’s Pak­tika Province, where his bat­talion was de­ployed. He had spent five years in cap­tiv­ity un­til his re­lease on May 31 in ex­change for five Taliban pris­on­ers trans­ferred from the U.S. pris­on at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In his own state­ment Thursday, Ri­gell said his res­ol­u­tion will be an of­fi­cial, bi­par­tis­an re­pu­di­ation of Obama’s ac­tions.

Al­though the ac­tion was not an­nounced un­til Thursday, it has ac­tu­ally been in the plan­ning stages since June. In fact, House Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship aides back then con­firmed that closed-door strategy ses­sions by top Re­pub­lic­ans were already un­der­way on how to best seize on the Ber­g­dahl swap, seen as an­ger­ing mem­bers of both parties. House Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee Chair­man Mi­chael Mc­Caul was even say­ing in June that the is­sue would have a long shelf life polit­ic­ally.

“Not only is it a win­ner be­cause it was hor­rible for­eign policy,” Mc­Caul said. There are also a lot of ele­ments for law­makers to cov­er in the Ber­g­dahl con­tro­versy, he said.

Mc­Caul said those in­clude the risks of ne­go­ti­at­ing with ter­ror­ists, why Con­gress wasn’t kept in the loop, and wheth­er this swap sig­nals plans by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­lease all pris­on­ers and close the Guantanamo pris­on over con­gres­sion­al ob­jec­tions.

“You know me, I’m pretty much more of a na­tion­al se­cur­ity kind of guy and I don’t really en­gage in a lot of par­tis­an polit­ics,” Mc­Caul said. But still, he said, “I think this prob­ably has more legs than any oth­er story I’ve seen.”

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