With Keystone and Guantanamo, Obama moves to secure his place in history
By Evan Lips | November 10, 2015, 20:41 EST
WASHINGTON – A frenzy of orders emanating from the White House has political pundits theorizing that President Barack Obama, currently entering his last lap as America’s commander-in-chief, is shifting his focus from governing to securing his place in the history books.
The latest move occurred last week when the president officially rejected the Keystone XL pipeline project, a plan that called for building a 1,179-mile pipeline from Canada to Nebraska in order to move crude oil from Alberta on to American refineries. In order to cross the border, TransCanada, the project’s sponsor, needed permission from the U.S. Department of State. (The southern leg of the project, which moves crude oil from Oklahoma to the Texas coast, is already operational.)
“Now that he’s killed the project, Obama is holding it up as Exhibit A as he works to lock in his environmental legacy with a powerful international climate accord,” the Associated Press reported November 7.
Although the State Department projected in January 2014, that the Keystone project would create more than 42,000 jobs, the decision to tear up the pipeline proposal provides the president significant environmental “creds” in advance of next month’s international climate change agreement talks at the United Nations.
According to the AP, “Obama is counting on the climate treaty, to be finalized early next month in Paris, to vault him into a category of his own: the first president to treat climate change as a top-tier issue, and the first to secure the type of commitments from other countries needed to address the problem significantly.”
As he nears the end of his presidency, Obama also seeks to honor his 2008 campaign pledge to shut down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced plans to close Guantanamo and transfer detainees to a federal prison in Colorado. But the $607 billion defense policy bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday contains provisions that prohibit the transfer of detainees at Guantanamo to the U.S. through 2016. The president has indicated that he will not veto the bill, should it reach his desk. But this leaves open the possibility that the president will act unilaterally to close Guantanamo in defiance of Congress.
In an August op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal, Republican senators Pat Roberts (Kansas) and Tim Scott (South Carolina) criticized the president’s efforts to close Guantanamo.
“Throughout his presidency, Mr. Obama has prioritized personal legacy over the safety and security of the nation – and he is still pursuing an effort to move the terrorists at Guantanamo into our backyards,” the senators wrote.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest hinted that Obama is open to exploring options that would let him circumvent Congress on the matter.
“I’m not aware of any ongoing effort to devise a strategy using only the president’s executive authority to accomplish this goal, but I certainly wouldn’t, as I mentioned last week, take that option off the table,” Earnest told reporters.