LEAVENWORTH – U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts is raising concerns that President Barack Obama may try to place terrorist suspects at a Kansas military prison – and is forcefully vowing to stop it – as he taps into the potential fears of voters during the closing days of a tight re-election campaign.
The longtime Republican senator, who fought against moving Guantanamo Bay detainees to Fort Leavenworth in 2009, claimed during a rally Thursday in the Army base’s home town that Obama wants to try anew to house suspected terrorists there. It marked a climax for a campaign theme that Roberts has been testing over the past several weeks as he tries to fend off a stiff challenge from independent candidate Greg Orman.
Obama has never said he wants to move detainees from the Cuban prison to Kansas.
But that hasn’t stopped Roberts’ assertions.
“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,” Roberts told dozens of people packed into a room at the High Noon Saloon & Brewery in Leavenworth.
“I’ve got news for the president,” Roberts said, waving a pointed finger has he leaned forward on a lectern. “Not on my watch! We’re not going to do that.”
As Roberts campaigned Thursday, he picked up two potentially key endorsements – a somewhat reluctant one from his former GOP primary rival Milton Wolf and a more enthusiastic from Kansas State University football coach Bill Snyder, who is featured in a new Roberts’ campaign ad.
The Guantanamo prison was created by former President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to hold suspected al-Qaida, Taliban and foreign fighters captured by U.S. troops. Obama had pledged to shut it down as one of his first acts in office. But the site remains open.
Congress passed legislation in 2010 banning the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. But the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that the White House was drafting options for Obama to close the Guantanamo facility by using executive powers to try to get around the ban on bringing detainees to the U.S.
The report prompted a flurry of congressional criticism against Obama, including from others in tough re-election contests such as Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, of Arkansas.
Roberts has been using TV ads, Twitter messages and speeches to highlight his commitment to blocking the detainees from coming to Fort Leavenworth. He says housing them there could make Kansas a target for terrorism.
“I don’t think I’m fear-mongering at all,” Roberts said. He added: “I just don’t want terrorists in the United States.”
Roberts’ statements about Guantanamo detainees are part of a pattern among his allies of raising concerns about Orman, a suburban Kansas City businessman who has cast Roberts as part of the political gridlock in Washington.
“Kansans can’t trust Mr. Orman to stand up to the president,” Roberts told the Leavenworth audience after raising his terrorist concerns.
Orman campaign spokesman Mike Phillips said Orman also believes “the president is wrong on the notion of bringing terrorists to American soil.”