House defies Obama, approves bill halting Syrian refugees

In a 289-137 vote, the House on Thursday easily approved legislation that requires new screening requirements on refugees from Syria and Iraq before they can enter the United States.

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Forty-seven Democrats defied President Obama’s veto threat and backed the bill — enough to override a presidential veto given the six Democrats and two Republicans who missed the vote. 

The 47 Democrats who voted for the bill ranged from centrist Blue Dogs, vulnerable lawmakers in tough reelection races and even one member of leadership: Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who heads House Democrats' communications efforts.

Two Republicans voted against the bill: Reps. Walter Jones (N.C.) and Steve King (Iowa).
 
The outcome suggests the House could override Obama if he vetoes the measure, although there's no guarantee that Democrats will side against the president if they are asked to sustain a veto.
 
The big question is whether the House will get a chance at an override vote.
 
The legislation will now go to the Senate, where it may face a tougher path to passage.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) vowed to block the House bill if it is considered by the upper chamber after the Thanksgiving recess.

“The problem is not with refugees,” Reid said. “I don’t think we’ll be dealing with it over here.”

When asked about the prospect of Obama vetoing the legislation, Reid said, “Don’t worry, it won’t get passed. Next question?”

Democrats in the upper chamber have been divided over the issue, and both parties have their eyes on winning a Senate majority in next year’s elections.

The House vote comes less than a week after at least 129 people were killed in the Paris terrorist attacks.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has claimed responsibility for the carnage, and is also a big factor in the wave of refugees from Iraq and Syria flowing into Europe.

Fears that terrorists could enter the United States through the refugee program sparked the House bill, which moved quickly through the chamber. Obama has planned to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees to enter the United States.

Reports that one of the Paris attackers entered Europe by posing as a Syrian refugee has further fanned the flames.

The legislation would prevent any refugees from Syria or Iraq from entering the United States until the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence certify that none of them are dangerous.

“If our law enforcement and our intelligence community cannot verify that each and every person is not a security threat, then they shouldn't be allowed in,” said Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE (R-Wis.).

“We cannot and we should not wait to act. Not when our national security is at stake,” he added.

Obama has engaged in an at times personal war of words with Republicans over the legislation, even as he continues a foreign trip.

He argued that keeping out Syrian refugees fleeing terrorism and war in their country was an affront to American values.

In a statement outlining its veto threat, the Obama administration argued the bill would “provide no meaningful additional security for the American people” and impose new certification requirements that effectively end the refugee program.

“The United States has always been and should always be a place of refuge,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). “We might as well take down the Statue of Liberty.”

Yet top administration officials, just hours before the vote, struggled to convince undecided House Democrats to oppose the bill.

The Obama administration has said the vetting process typically already takes more than a year for each refugee. But FBI Director James Comey acknowledged in a hearing last month that certain gaps remain in the administration’s ability to fully vet each refugee applicant.

If the bill is blocked in the Senate, House Republicans are already looking toward a catchall government spending bill, known as an omnibus, as their best leverage to force the Obama administration’s hand.

Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said he would vote against a spending bill that doesn’t contain provisions halting the refugee program.

“I think that we have to exert maximum leverage,” Salmon told The Hill.

Those threats raise the possibility of a showdown over the issue that could lead to a government shutdown. Congress must pass legislation by Dec. 11 to keep the government open.

Alexander Bolton and Scott Wong contributed.

This story was updated at 3:52 p.m.