Refugee bill stalls in Senate after battle over Trump amendment

Senate Democrats on Wednesday blocked legislation from the House that would crack down on the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the United States.

The 55-43 vote came after Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidAbortion ruling roils race for the White House, Senate Dem senator urges support for House Puerto Rico bill Reid: McConnell silence on Trump 'speaks volumes' MORE (D-Nev.) sought approval of a handful of amendments, including one on Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDem rep: Benghazi report aims to sink Clinton’s poll numbers Benghazi panel offers new details on attack in 800-page report Poll: Clinton more trusted on terrorism than Trump MORE's push to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country.

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Republicans ripped the attempt to link the bill to the GOP presidential candidate. Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynMcConnell tees up House Puerto Rico bill Dem senator urges support for House Puerto Rico bill GOP senator praises Supreme Court's abortion ruling MORE (R-Texas) called the effort “ridiculous” and said Democrats were trivializing the refugee issue “by bringing the circus to town on the floor of the Senate.”

"I hate to see the Democratic leader try to trivialize this very important national security debate and discussion by injecting presidential election politics right in the middle of this," Cornyn said.

Democrats fired back, suggesting GOP leaders rejected Reid's deal because they were afraid of taking on their party’s presidential front-runner.

"When we offer them a chance to vote on another statement by Republican presidential nominee Mr. Trump ... they run like scalded cats," Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinSupreme Court limps to finish Senate Dems link court fight to Congressional Baseball Game Dems: Immigration decision will 'energize' Hispanic voters MORE (D-Ill.) said. 

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPolls show tight Clinton-Trump race in 2016 battlegrounds Polls show tight Clinton-Trump race in 2016 battlegrounds Sanders's Nevada director floated two-sided coins for tiebreaks: report MORE (I-Vt.), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, missed the vote, as did Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamDefense contingency misuse threatens national security Gun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA Bipartisan gun measure survives test vote MORE (R-S.C.).

The refugee legislation, which passed the House late last year, would "pause" the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the U.S. until the Obama administration certifies that they aren't a national security threat. Sixty votes were needed to move forward.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanHouse Democrats hit with ethics complaint over sit-in Pelosi urges Dems to hold sit-ins in their districts this week Ryan: GOP won't 'tolerate' another sit-in MORE (R-Wis.) slammed Senate Democrats, calling their decision to block the legislation "irresponsible."

"Our approach balances security and compassion, and it was backed by a veto-proof majority in the House," he said.

Fighting over refugee resettlement has intensified amid rising fears about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Some worry the terrorist group could use the program to slip fighters into the U.S. and carry out attacks on American soil like the carnage the group unleashed in Paris last year. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellEconomic turmoil threatens Clinton Economic turmoil threatens Clinton Overnight Finance: McConnell tees up Puerto Rico vote | Britain's credit rating slashed | Clinton vows to appoint trade prosecutor MORE (R-Ky.) had suggested that senators shouldn't put a limit on amendments to the refugee legislation and that the onus was on Democrats to allow the votes.

"A better way to go forward would be to go to the bill, have an open amendment process, alternate from side to side. Senators should vote to go to the legislation," McConnell told reporters. 

But Durbin said McConnell's counteroffer wouldn’t guarantee the amendment votes Democrats were seeking.

"Sen. McConnell is a pro and is experienced, and he knows that any single senator could object to going to a roll call vote on any amendment," Durbin said.

Reid called the bill "just another step in the absolute wrong direction, the direction of Donald Trump." 

Republican senators had planned to offer amendments to the bill that would give governors the ability to reject refugees and require the Obama administration to include social media in refugee background checks.

GOP senators were also planning to try to make Democrats take politically sensitive votes.

Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzTrump hires ex-Cruz aide as communications director Overnight Tech: Judiciary leaders question internet transition plan | Clinton to talk tech policy | Snowden's robot | Trump's big digital push Kasich doesn't expect to speak at convention MORE (R-Texas), who is running for president, said that he was planning to offer an amendment that would increase jail time for undocumented immigrants who reenter the country illegally. 

Known as "Kate's Law," the legislation is named after Kathryn Steinle, who was shot and killed in San Francisco. The suspect in her slaying is an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times. 

Even if Democrats had allowed Republicans to add the provisions, they could have blocked McConnell from ending debate on the bill.

The House legislation has underscored divisions among Senate Republicans over how to make the refugee resettlement process more secure.  

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeMcConnell quashes Senate effort on guns Bipartisan gun measure survives test vote Senate Republicans may defy NRA on guns MORE (R-Ariz.) said that while he doesn't support a "pause" of refugee acceptance, he backs moving forward with the legislation so that he could try to amend it.  

"I'm not a fan of this approach," Flake told reporters, adding that he planned to offer amendments to loosen new visa restrictions for dual nationals that were included in last months' government spending bill. 

Some conservative Republicans, on the other hand, argue the refugee bill doesn’t go far enough. 

Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsTrump hopes for boost from Brexit vote GOP senators: Brexit vote a wake-up call Sessions warns of 'radical' Clinton immigration policy MORE (R-Ala.) suggested late last year that the House bill would allow Obama to bring in as many refugees as he wants, adding that it "fails to defend" American interests. 

Updated at 5:31 p.m.

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