The specific legal issue here is a provision in the NDAA that President Obama signed into law in December 2013, which stated the administration must notify Congress 30 days before releasing Guantanamo Bay prisoners. At the time, Obama issued a signing statement calling out that specific requirement, emphasizing the flexibility the executive branch has "to act swiftly in conducting negotiations with foreign countries regarding the circumstances of detainee transfers."
Even still, Republicans believe Obama clearly violated the law.
And the answers Congress is getting so far from the White House aren't satisfactory, many members say. "At what point are the American people being disrespected by the failure to give us information, before or after [the prisoner swap]?" Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., asked after a classified briefing with administration officials on Monday. "I mean they clearly violated the law by not doing it before and [they] did not articulate a legal reason why they had to do that."
Byrne, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, noted that the House would hold hearings into the matter, but added that even in the context of a hearing, members rarely get the answers they're looking for. Asked if there's anything else Congress can do about the situation, Byrne said bluntly: "Nothing."
There is one thing that House members could do: Begin the process of removing Obama from the presidency. But Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota said that while there are many outside of Washington bringing up impeachment, she isn't calling for such an action.
Why not? It's an acknowledgement of a political reality.
"Even if the House would be successful in impeaching the president, the power of removal lies with the United States Senate and with Harry Reid leading that chamber, I don't foresee any scenario whereby Harry Reid would lead an effort to remove" the president, Bachmann said. "So there wouldn't be a final result if we impeached."
Some lawmakers are using the incident to push bills they say will address an underlying concern. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz pointed to his proposal to freeze all transfers from Guantanamo Bay for six months as one response. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., agreed that further restrictions on transferring detainees could help alleviate the problem.
"The top priority here is preventing the further release of terrorists," Cruz said this week.
But the 30-day rule remains an issue for many members, including Democrats like Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has been a vocal critic of the Bergdahl swap, said Tuesday he wasn't aware of anything Congress could do to enforce the 30-day rule. "I don't know."¦ If the president wants to disobey the law, then what happens in these things, when they break the trust, then they pay prices in other areas," he said, but did not elaborate.