Quad-City area lawmakers praised the Obama administration’s decision to go forward with the purchase of the Thomson Correctional Center, even as each took their own partisan — and bipartisan — jabs in what has been a long, drawn out fight to get a vacant prison sold.
“The bottom line is that this is a welcome development for our region...,” Reps. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill., Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, and Don Manzullo, R-Ill., said in a joint statement Tuesday distributed by Schilling’s office.
Area lawmakers have all argued recently for the prison to be transferred to the federal government. But even the prospect of hundreds of new jobs resulting from Tuesday’s announcement didn’t stop the divisions from showing.
“If the administration was willing to move on Thomson without closing Guantanamo all along, we question why they waited this long before taking action,” Schilling, Manzullo and Loebsack said in their joint statement.
The Obama administration first proposed buying Thomson in late 2009 in order to move foreign detainees there from Guantanamo Bay. That move drew fierce Republican opposition, then grew more bipartisan.
In early 2010, the administration said if its Guantanamo plan didn’t work out, it still wanted the facility to ease overcrowding in the federal prison system. A little more than a year later, in April 2011, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to Congress saying it wanted the facility to house federal inmates only.
Despite that, the sale has bogged down. Some Republicans don’t trust the administration not to send detainees there. And, more recently, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, has declined to sign off on a reprogramming of already appropriated funds to purchase the facility. He, too, has cited the fear that Guantanamo detainees would be sent to Thomson.
Wolf’s opposition has put Schilling in a tricky position. He’s in a tough fight for re-election in one of the most closely watched races in the country, and Wolf is a member of his own party.
Schilling has said that he has tried to get the congressman to change his mind, but he has also said Wolf doesn’t trust the administration because of an attempt to move Chinese Uighurs from Guantanamo Bay to his district in 2009.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who is backing Democrat Cheri Bustos in the 17th District congressional race, has said there is a bipartisan effort to get the sale approved. But he also noted in an interview that Schilling did not budge Wolf.
“He couldn’t do it,” said Durbin, the primary advocate for the sale in the U.S. Senate. After Wolf wouldn’t change his mind, Durbin said, the administration finally decided to move forward.
Schilling has said he’s working on a bipartisan basis to try to get the prison open, and earlier this year he proposed lowering the price of the prison.
But Bustos has said Schilling hasn’t pushed Wolf hard enough and that she would have “camped out” in his office until the sale was finalized.
She said Tuesday, “the sale of the Thomson prison is great news because there should be no higher priority than putting people in our district back to work.”
For his part, Loebsack has been a ready partner with Schilling in pursuing the Thomson project. But he also took the step of issuing his own statement that blamed “political bickering” for the Thomson logjam. But it did not single out the administration on the Guantanamo issue, as the joint statement with Schilling and Manzullo did. Asked about that difference, Loebsack said while the administration has dragged its feet, he’s been “mostly frustrated” with Wolf.