Veteran Virginia Republican Rep. Frank Wolf's rejection of the Justice Department's latest bid to purchase the unused Thomson prison in western Illinois has drawn the ire of two leading Illinois Democratswho accused the congressman of sacrificing jobs over politics.
Wolf, a powerful lawmaker who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the federal Bureau of Prisons, said late Friday he was "unequivocally" rejecting a request to redirect $165 million from other programs to purchase Thomson from the state. He previously rejected a similar effort.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Wolf said he didn't trust President Barack Obama's administration when it pledged it would not use the prison to house suspected terrorists from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A federal law already prohibits bringing terrorist detainees to U.S. soil.
"Frankly, I do not trust the (Justice) Department or the Administration to enforce the law forbidding the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States," Wolf wrote Holder. Wolf also noted the Republican-led House had previously voted to hold Holder in contempt over the failed Fast and Furious gun-walking program.
Sen. Dick Durbin, the state's senior senator and the second-ranking Democrat in leadership, said Wolf's latest rejection of the downstate Thomson prison purchase "reflects tortured logic and his personal feelings about the president and his attorney general."
"Congressman Wolf is prepared to sacrifice over 1,000 jobs which we desperately need to flex his political muscle," Durbin said. "I have worked for three years to bring these jobs home to our state and I will continue to work with President Obama to get this job done."
Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinn each wrote to Wolf earlier on Friday, urging him to sign off on the purchase. Quinn had told Wolf, "I cannot see any reason for objecting to this sale."
After Wolf rejected the purchase, Quinn's office said that while the benefits of the sale are "crystal clear to everybody… the only person who has continually ignored the facts is a single congressman who has probably never set foot in Thomson."
"If he had, he would see a first-class facility that the Bureau of Prisons desperately needs and can afford to purchase, and a region that has been counting on the tremendous economic boost it would deliver for far too long," Quinn's office said, vowing to continue working with Obama and Durbin to make the sale.
Ironically, Wolf's decision politically probably hurts one of his Republican colleagues the most. Freshman Rep. Bobby Schilling of Colona has Thomson in his district and a federal purchase of the prison and creation of new jobs would help him in his bid for re-election against Cheri Bustos, a former East Moline alderwoman whose family has connections to the late Democratic Sen. Paul Simon and former Democratic Sen. Alan Dixon.
Schilling and Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, who had written a joint letter Thursday urging Wolf to visit Thomson, issued a joint statement to the Quad City Times. The Times reported the congressmen called Wolf's rejection a "disappointing setback" and said they would work together to try to resolve the issue.
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