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Media Stakeout With Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Senator Saxby Chambliss; Senator Jon Kyl; And Senator John Ensign Following The Weekly Senate Republican Policy Luncheon

Press Conference

Location: Washington, DC

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SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, good afternoon, everyone.

I want to focus today on the Guantanamo issue. The administration still has not come up with a plan as (to what ?) we will do with the prisoners come January of 2010. It is not, of course, unusual for a president to indicate he would like to close Guantanamo. The previous president said the same thing. (Off mike) -- these prisoners are some of the most hardened terrorists in the world. We know that a number of them who have been previously released have gone back to the battlefield. We know there's not a whole lot of enthusiasm among our European critics of having Guantanamo open to take any of them.

This is an issue that will come up -- come up in the context of the appropriations bill. We understand that over on the House side they've deleted the money. That doesn't eliminate the issue. The issue remains, what will be done with these prisoners?

Now, one of our members who's spent a lot of time on this issue and one of our senior members of the Armed Services Committee is Senator Chambliss, and I want to ask him now to share his observations on this issue as well.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: Thank you, Leader McConnell.

People all across America are very concerned that this administration has not developed and published a plan for what's going to happen to these hard-core defendants who are now detained at Guantanamo. They're concerned about where these detainees are going to go from the standpoint of coming on U.S. soil or what's going to be done with them. And just as importantly, they're concerned about the fact that there's the potential for any number of these individuals to ultimately be released on U.S. soil.

As we head into the debate on this issue, I intend to introduce legislation in the next few days to make sure that we establish a policy that will provide for no funding for the release of any of these individuals on U.S. soil, so that Americans can take some security in the fact of knowing that, if these individuals are transferred to U.S. soil, that they're not going to be released into their neighborhoods where they're going to immediately form cells where they will seek to kill and harm Americans.

SEN. KYL: Just one final comment. Remember, too, that it's against federal law for a terrorist or terrorist supporter to have legal entry into the United States or remain here. Any of these individuals who therefore the administration plans to release into the United States would be in immediate violation of federal law, and I presume that those effecting the release also would. So there would have to be some change in federal law to allow what appears to be at least the desired result with respect to some of these individuals.

If foreign countries won't take them, we can't send them to countries who would torture them, for example, or we can't return them to the battlefield, and they can't be returned to -- or cannot be sent to the United States in violation of federal law, then the administration has a real problem. I think it's finding out that it's easier said than done. And a lot of the things that were easy to talk about in the campaign aren't so easy when you're the commander in chief, when you're the president of the United States and you actually have to make it happen.

The American people do not support the release of these terrorists at Gitmo. And the administration, in asking for money, needs to tell us exactly what it would spend that money for, or I predict to you that the Congress will not support the appropriation that has been requested.

SEN. MCCONNELL: We'll take a couple of questions, if there are any.

Q Mr. Leader, what did the Fed chairman have to say to your -- to your caucus? And what was your reaction?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, let me call on the chairman of our Policy Committee, who invited Chairman Bernanke, and any of our other members to make some observations.

SEN. ENSIGN: First of all, the Fed chairman was, I think, very frank with our conference. He faced a lot of tough questions today regarding the independence, for instance, of the Federal Reserve. That was a question. How is the Federal Reserve going to remain independent when it's been so closely tied, especially, with the Treasury Department? And Chairman Bernanke's response was, during this time of national crisis, they've come out with a position, basically, that they need to work together with the Treasury, but, as soon as possible, to get back to their complete independence. One thing that he did say is they are remaining completely independent when it comes to monetary policy, but a lot of us expressed concern about, are they truly independent or not?

A couple other points that he made that I took notes on. One is that the Fed seems very concerned about this rising national debt that we have. And if we don't do something about this national debt, that actually we could exacerbate the problems in the economy over the next few years. So they're assuming at the Fed that we're going to do something about the national debt, even though this administration has not come out with plans to do something.

He even talked about the historical context of our deficit versus GDP and our debt versus GDP. And because it's going to be, under the Obama budget, so high compared to what it's been historically, there are really concerned -- real concerns of whether or not our economy will be able to handle that kind of a debt load. And certainly the chairman expressed concerns over that.

And lastly, there was a, you know, question of what he actually thought about the economic recovery. And he was cautious, as all Fed chairmen are cautious about this, in that he said he expects next year to have about a 2 percent growth in GDP, and the year after that with 4 percent. But he said that there were a lot of factors that they were assuming that would allow that to happen. One is that they're -- the financial markets would be -- they would remain stable and that they actually would strengthen over the next year to two years. And he said, "But that's a big question." And while they think that's going to happen, a lot of the things he said about their assumptions in the economy sounded a little more like kind of a rosy scenario to a lot of us.

So whether that kind of a recovery is going to happen or not, I think, is a big question. Whether we're going to have a double dip in this economy was a big question from the Fed, and -- or for the Fed. And he seemed to think that there was not going -- he seemed to be more hopeful than positive whether that was actually going to happen or not.

Q Senator -- (off mike) --

Q (Off mike) -- bailout?

SEN. ENSIGN: I'll let -- (laughter) -- (off mike).

I would expect that any kind of a -- like a TARP III or anything like that would have a lot of trouble in the U.S. Senate, simply because politicians usually listen to voters when 80 percent of them say that that's not something that they want, and that's the polls that I've seen, that people think that a lot of the TARP money has been not used very well up to this point. And because of that, there's a lot of public sentiment against it. So I think that the -- there would be a huge, huge problem getting a TARP III bill through the -- the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House, either one.

Q Did the Fed chairman suggest that they would be looking for that kind of money?

SEN. ENSIGN: They did not mention anything about coming back for a TARP III. They felt like they had, right now, the adequate tools that they need to stabilize things. And he did not even mention anything about a TARP III.

Thank you all very much.

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