President Obama left open the possibility Friday that he might seek to close the Guantanamo Bay military detention facility by executive action in the new year, fulfilling a goal that has eluded him since his first day in office.
The president said at a news conference that he continues to prefer to work with Congress on a plan that would shut the facility in Cuba. He noted that by early next year, fewer than 100 people will be imprisoned there, and said its ongoing existence betrays America’s ideals.
Obama said that though Congress will “every once in a while … surprise you,” he acknowledged that acting on his own authority to close Guantanamo “may prove necessary,” a conclusion he has reached on other major issues including climate and immigration.
Obama arrived in the White House briefing room just after Congress agreed to a sweeping spending and tax agreement that all but ensures the years-long fiscal battles between the parties have come to an end.
But it’s clear that much of what the president is able to accomplish will depend on his interpretation of executive authority, not only on Guantanamo but on such issues as gun safety and even criminal justice reform. The White House also announced nearly 100 commutations and two pardons Friday, largely for individuals serving time for drug prosecutions.
The news conference offered the president an opportunity to tout what he saw as areas of progress at the end of a year his critics saw as the start of a period of irrelevance but which he has preferred to dub the “fourth quarter” of his presidency. Much of what Obama was able to accomplish in 2015 was also through executive authority, including a major climate deal.
The president vowed a similarly active year ahead.
“In 2016, I’m going to leave it out all on the field,” he said.
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