Will Speaker Ryan’s First Big Test Be A Shutdown Fight Over Syrian Refugees?

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Hopes that Paul Ryan would avoid a shutdown fight in the initial months of his speakership are now in jeopardy with the escalating hysteria over the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

Since the Paris attacks that took the lives of more than 100 civilians, lawmakers have ramped up their attacks on the program, which already was the target of Republican opposition. The issue is quick becoming the latest litmus test for politicians to prove their conservative bonafides. More than a dozen governors — most of them Republican — said Monday their states did not wish to participate in the federal refugee resettlement program for Syrians.

But it’s not just Obama who has been receiving the criticism for his plan to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year. Now the pressure is growing on Ryan to do what he can to halt the program.

The race is now on for GOP leadership in the House and Senate to figure out how to attack the refugee program in a way that will appease conservatives. The question will be whether standalone efforts to change or limit the program will be enough. Or if the already heated political rhetoric will give rise to yet another threat of a government shutdown if Obama does not cede to Republican demands.

Earlier this fall Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) introduced a bill to suspend the U.S.’s refugee program, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) — who is also running for the 2016 GOP nom — reintroduced Monday his own bill to put new restrictions on visa issuance program for refuges. But those bills would meet an easy veto by the President, making attaching the issue to the ongoing appropriations process all the more tempting.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-TK) suggested just that, in a letter Monday to the Appropriations Committee, requesting language be added to the upcoming spending bill that would require the President to get Congress’ separate approval to receive funding for his refugee program.

On the House side, Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) issued a statement Monday that said the U.S. “must suspend our refugee program until certainty is brought to the vetting process.” Meanwhile, Reps. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) and Babin explicitly called for measures blocking funding for the refugee program to be attached to December’s spending legislation.

Though a deal to set a topline number on next year’s budget was pushed through before Ryan took over the speaker’s gavel, Congress is still sorting through the thorny appropriations legislation that establishes where that funding goes — and that includes towards the President’s refugee resettlement program. The deadline for passing that legislation is Dec. 11.

“I can’t imagine the Republicans letting this go in the midst of a heated campaign,” said Stan Collender — an executive vice president at Qorvis MSL Group and Congressional budget expert — in an interview Monday with TPM.

He compared knee-jerk reaction to the Paris attacks to the backlash prompted by the Planned Parenthood “sting” videos earlier this year, which almost brought about a shutdown in October over the organization’s federal funding.

“It’s exactly the kind of emotional issue that — like Planned Parenthood — could really gum up all the work on appropriations,” Collender said. “It’s the kind of thing that the House will almost certainly vote to exclude the money, the Senate is not clear, and then the president would veto it, and then you would have a showdown come close to midnight on December 11.”

The President has stood firm in his defense of the refugee program, saying Monday, “We do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) — the chairman of House Freedom Caucus, which has been the root of House leaders’ problems — told Breitbart he received no guarantee from Ryan that the refugee program would be curbed in exchange for the caucus’ support of his speakership. But he signaled the 40-or-so members of the Freedom Caucus were already preparing to oppose the expected omnibus spending bill.

“If the Freedom Caucus makes a stand, I don’t think Ryan has any choice but to do what they want at least the first time around,” Collender said, meaning give them some sort of vote on defunding the refugee program.

According to a Politico report, Ryan and the leadership team are still mulling their next steps. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) had already been in touch with several committee chairs to discuss how to respond to the security concerns raised by the Paris attacks, and the refugee issue is expected to come up when House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) hosts closed door meetings this week to answer members’ questions about the ongoing appropriations process, Politico reported.

Ryan himself has not taken off the table targeting the the refugee program in the upcoming the spending bills, telling radio host Bill Bennett on Monday that Republicans were “trying to figure out what is the best legislative option.”

“We’ve got to make sure we’re protecting ourselves,” Ryan said. “So that’s what we’re looking at. What is the best option — not just so we have an issue to talk about but so we have a result, which is to make sure we are not complicit or even facilitating of having someone come in who would seek to do us harm from Syria.”

Late update: Ryan said at Tuesday’s House leadership conference that a task force had been assembled to come up with legislation “to take a pause” and develop “a more comprehensive strategy” in regards to the Syrian refugee program.

“We think it’s simply prudent that for this particular program, in this particular situation, that we be better guarded against any possible infiltration of ISIS coming through this program,” he said.

He also gently pushed off the idea that Republicans will use December’s spending bill to attempt to block Obama’s program.

“We don’t want to wait that long. We want to work and act on this faster than that,” he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.
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