President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Nevada on Tuesday to participate in a Las Vegas fundraiser for Sen. Harry Reid, who hopes to raise $25 million to fend off possible GOP challenges to his 2010 reelection campaign. The trip coincides with a sudden—and convenient—change of heart by Reid on the thorny issue of what to do with Guantanamo Bay detainees once the facility is shuttered.
Senate Democrats have clashed with Obama over his plan to close the prison and perhaps relocate some of the detainees to a facility in the United States. Last week, Reid was telling reporters in no uncertain terms that he rejected just such an idea, even though there is a long list of terrorists already in US prisons. David Corn and Steve Aquino explained the issue:
Senate Democrats, including Reid, moved to strip the Gitmo shutdown money after the Republicans initiated a scare campaign, warning that the worst will happen if Obama transfers Gitmo detainees to federal prison facilities in the United States. Looking for a winning political issue, Republican House members and senators have been sending letters to Obama and declaring, “Not in my state.” Though Reid’s home state of Nevada has no federal prisons, he joined this chorus, saying: “Part of what we don’t want is [terrorists] be put in prisons in the United States. We don’t want them around the United States.”
But in advance of Obama’s visit to Sin City, Reid’s singing a different tune. He told Las Vegas journalist Jon Ralston on Monday that he is open to moving some Guantanamo Bay detainees to US prisons. Here’s the relevent portion of the transcript of Reid’s conversation with Ralston:
“A maximum security prison in the United States, there has never been a single escape.”
JR: “You think eventually the plan is going to be to put them in maximum security prisons here in this country, correct?”
“I think some. Keep in mind, Jon, there’s so many different issues. There’s no question that a number of these people who are there are not guilty of anything. The Uighurs, these are a group of Muslim Chinese who are guilty of nothing. They were arrested, put in there. They are there. They are doing nothing. We’re going to have to find someplace to put them. We can’t send them back to China. Should they go into a maximum security prison? Probably not.”
Could the need to raise $25 million—and the prospect of more help from the extremely popular Obama—be influencing Reid’s rhetoric on Guantanamo? If not, this is definitely an interesting coincidence.
(h/t Marc Ambinder)