President Barack Obama has few friends in Kansas.
The state is solid red.
Members of its congressional delegation routinely rip the nation’s chief executive.
And now the president is on the verge of making a big decision about shutting down the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, as he promised in the 2008 campaign, and transferring prisoners to the homeland. Sites in three states are said to be under consideration: Colorado, South Carolina and Kansas, where the military brig at Fort Leavenworth is under review.
Politics won’t play any role in the president’s selection, will it?
Obama surely will consider any number of factors, including engineering issues, the cost of modifying each site for dangerous prisoners and how to ensure the safety of military officers who would stand guard. Officials in all three states share one belief, which is that nobody wants these guys for fear they’ll invite terrorist hits.
More than a few Kansas officials rate Leavenworth as a likely location. In fact, on the campaign trail in October 2014, Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, blurted out that it was a done deal.
“The president is now saying that he’s going to renew his efforts to put all of the Gitmo terrorists somewhere in the continental United States, and you know where he’s going to try to put them, and that’s right here,” he said.
When it comes to pure politics, the other states have some armor. Colorado is a swing state. Democrats badly want to win it this year. The president won’t want to tick off Colorado.
South Carolina is Republican, but not as much as Kansas. Hillary Clinton may need to win there desperately, particularly if she loses Iowa and New Hampshire to Bernie Sanders in the nomination runup. With her years as secretary of state, she is closely tied to Obama.
So the president probably doesn’t want to infuriate the Palmetto State either.
Then there’s Kansas, which Obama lost 60-38 percent in 2012 and where Republicans routinely feast on Obama to score political points. In Kansas, complimenting Obama is akin to saying the University of Missouri is the superior school.
Just last week, U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins was out with yet another statement on the possibility that detainees were headed to her 2nd District: “Once again, the administration refuses to listen to Kansans and the American people. … It’s time for the president to drop this reckless campaign promise and instead focus on strengthening our national security.”
Not exactly endearing rhetoric.
Roberts, meanwhile, has made it his habit to chew on Obama for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He has routinely ripped the president’s environmental work, and when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, Roberts was out again last month calling for the law’s repeal.
To be sure, all that is fair game. But sometimes you need something from the nation’s leader, and Roberts, Jenkins and crew have made no allowances for that. Now they want something in the worst way from a president who maintains that he can use his executive authority to place the prisoners where he deems best.
If politics wind up playing any role in this — and why wouldn’t it in a presidential election year? — Kansas just lost.