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WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Rob Wittman (VA-1) spoke during floor consideration of H. Res. 644, a resolution condemning the Administration's failure to notify Congress before releasing 5 detainees from United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as part of a prisoner exchange. H. Res. 644 passed the House of Representatives with Wittman’s support by a bipartisan vote of 249-163.

Full Remarks (video available here):


Mr. Speaker, I rise today as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Readiness, to voice my support for House Resolution 644.

I’d like to thank the Chairman for his leadership in bringing this to the floor, and I respect deeply the Ranking Member but adamantly disagree with him on the points that he makes about this piece of legislation.

Very simply stated, the prisoner swap authorized by the President to exchange five Taliban captives for Sergeant Bergdahl was illegal. That part of the law was not followed − pretty plain and simple. By failing to notify Congress in accordance with the 30-day reporting requirement, our President acted outside of the law. Clearly, it wasn’t authorized, and the law was ignored. Now, you can make arguments about what other prerogatives he had, but you can’t say, ‘Well, Article 2 we’ll put in place,’ and that trumps other areas of the law. I think you have to say that this law was disregarded.

Our Constitution clearly outlines those separations of powers. This principle is a cornerstone of our great democracy. Our framers carefully incorporated the division of government and the responsibilities there in order to protect citizens by preventing any one branch of government from overreach and abuse of power. That’s why we’re here, is to have these types of debates and say the President clearly acted outside the law.

I will make this even clearer − Congress makes the laws. The President, on the other hand, has the constitutional charge of ensuring the laws are “faithfully executed.” Not just part of them, but all of them.

In this case, the President knowingly and willfully disregarded his constitutional duties. Americans deserve better. Americans expect that their President will uphold his end of the bargain. Americans expect that the laws of the land apply to everyone, and that they are applied properly in accordance with the direction from Congress.

Americans also expect that their congressional leaders are not simply going to shrug their shoulders and look the other way. Congress has an obligation to the people to ensure that its laws are enforced. That’s why we are elected.

Our nation remains today at a tipping point in this world’s history in a war against terrorism. The unlawful release of five Taliban leaders, some of whom will certainly return to the battlefield, deeply concerns me. An investigation I led in 2012 indicated at the time that 27% return to the battlefield. That’s why I remain skeptical of the Administration’s assessment that the released prisoners will not pose a threat to our national security.

We have no idea how much more terror will these men now might unleash and what impacts they will have on the lives of others. By ignoring the law, the president has decided that he’s going to shoulder this responsibility. I argue he had an obligation under the law to consult Congress in doing this. That’s why it was put into the National Defense Authorization Act.

We live in a nation where the people expect their elected leaders to carry out their duties as the Constitution directs them. And every day, each of us entrusted by the public to uphold the Constitution must live up to that obligation. Mr. Speaker, I fully support House Resolution 644, and urge my colleagues to support this institution and our Constitution.

Congressman Wittman also questioned Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about the prisoner exchange during a House Armed Services Committee hearing in June. You can view the video here.

Congressman Rob Wittman represents the First District of Virginia. He serves on the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Armed Services Committee where he is the Chairman of the Readiness Subcommittee.


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