WASHINGTON -- Without a plan detailing where alleged terrorists would be sent, the Obama White House was told by congressional Democrats that lawmakers would not approve funds for closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
So what happened? Despite the warnings, with no ammunition to deflect fears about terrorists running around on U.S. soil, the Obama team lost Guantanamo funding votes in the House and Senate. With no plan, resistance to bringing the detainees to U.S. prisons -- and fear-mongering -- have been allowed to grow.
One of President Obama's first acts was to sign an order shutting down Guantanamo next January, fulfilling a central campaign promise. But his team has yet to come up with at least an outline explaining where the detainees will go. There is a case-by-case review being conducted of the circumstances surrounding each detainee, which, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, changes "the calculus of what has to be determined."
Still, you can't defend something with nothing.
On an overwhelming 90-6 roll call, the Senate on Wednesday rejected Obama's $80 million request for the prisoner transfer in a Defense supplemental spending bill. The House last week also turned down the administration's Guantanamo funding request.
Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate majority whip, saw the Obama defeat coming. He warned Tuesday, ''We were being asked to defend a plan that hasn't been announced.''
Nonetheless, Durbin was one of the six backing Obama.
From the Senate floor, Durbin said Wednesday that Obama would responsibly allocate detainees "to safe and secure positions. He's going to send a message to the world that it's a new day in terms of America's foreign policy."
Durbin said U.S. corrections personnel already handle dangerous prisoners "every single day."
''The reality is that we're holding some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world right now in our federal prisons."
Sen. Roland Burris voted with Senate Democratic leadership, even as they ponder an exit for him from the chamber. The Senate Democratic political operation, believing the Rod Blagojevich-appointed Burris is vulnerable in 2010, has been trying to entice Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in the race.
A self-described Obama loyalist, even Burris could not be mustered for this one. As Burris mulls whether he is going to run in 2010, he did not need the added aggravation of being called soft on terrorism and irresponsibly writing a blank check for the White House.
Burris told me after the vote he thought facilities such as the federal maximum security prison in Marion, Ill., could safely hold the detainees. However, he did not want to approve spending to close Guantanamo without a plan.
Thursday morning, Obama delivers a major speech on Guantanamo. Gibbs seemed to say the Obama team has received the message.
"I don't expect that he's going to hand out a 100-page plan that will have every decision made," Gibbs said. "...We share Congress's belief that before resources are given for a project, that they need and deserve a more detailed plan."
Or at least now they do.