House Vote Kicks Off Congressional Battle Over Syrian Refugees

AP

The House will vote Thursday afternoon on the first of what could be many legislative moves geared to curb President Obama’s Syrian refugee resettlement program. The legislation, called the America SAFE Act, would require that the heads of federal security agencies personally approve of the background investigations of each refugee admitted and certify that the refugee poses no security threat.

The White House has already vowed to veto the House GOP bill and Democrats are putting together their own alternative. Nevertheless, some Dems are expected to vote with Republicans Thursday, while on the right, conservatives are already clamoring that the bill does not go far enough in targeting Obama’s plan to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees to resettle in the United States this fiscal year.

Since Friday’s Paris terrorist attacks, it’s been a race to the right among lawmakers who oppose accepting refugees from countries with an Islamic State presence for fear of terrorist infiltration. Some of the harsher measures being called for by some Republicans — such as an all-out ban on Syrian refugees or a religious test to allow only Jews or Christians — are not in Thursday’s bill.

Still, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the requirements that he personally certify every refugee’s investigation would be “cumbersome” and the White House, in its veto threat Wednesday night, called the measure “untenable.” Advocates of Obama’s refugee program argue that refugees are already subjected to an extensive, months-long vetting process and a refugee visa is one of the toughest visas to acquire.

Nevertheless, some Democrats, including no less than Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, have said they would like to see a “pause” in the program after last week’s attacks, suggesting there might be some bipartisan support for the Republican bill.

According to Roll Call, House Democrats are plotting to put forth their own refugee security measure, which could also help shore up Dems against the Republican legislation. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) reportedly refused to work with Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who sought a compromise on the bill.

Some conservatives, meanwhile, are already sounding the alarm that Thursday’s Republican measure is only a show vote and urging lawmakers to go farther. Ryan (R-WI) has said that Thursday’s bill is only a first step in the measures Congress will consider. Yet a Breitbart News headline blares that the vote “sets the stage for [a] coming cave to Obama’s Syrian refugee resettlement program.” Heritage Action — the lobbying arm of the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation — blasted the GOP bill because “it provides no leverage for Congress to weigh in and relies solely on President Obama’s appointees to carry out the new vetting process.”

“Lawmakers should deny funding to this program to ensure that there is a real plan to mitigate the serious national security risks posed by Obama administration’s current resettlement plans,” the group’s CEO Michael Needham said in a statement, hinting at a possible government shutdown battle.

A number of other anti-refugee measures are floating around the House and Senate. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) Wednesday introduced a bill that would bar refugees from any country where a terrorist organization has a significant presence, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is pushing his own legislation adding new restrictions on visas issued to refugees. Both senators are running for president.

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