Syrian refugees bill could be inserted in omnibus

Getty Images

GOP leaders and appropriators are considering tucking the House-passed bill tightening screening for Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the must-pass omnibus spending measure, Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told The Hill.

ADVERTISEMENT
The refugee bill cleared the House just before the Thanksgiving break on a big 289-137 vote, with support from 47 Democrats and all but two Republicans. Senate Democrats, however, have vowed to filibuster the bill in the upper chamber, leaving McCaul and other backers focusing on the massive omnibus as another option to get it to President Obama’s desk.

To avert a government shutdown, Congress must pass the $1.1 trillion catchall spending bill by a Dec. 11 deadline.

“There is some discussion right now about putting my Syrian refugee bill onto the omnibus bill,” McCaul said in an interview after votes Monday night. “We got a veto-proof majority, almost 50 Democrats," he added. "At the end of the day, I think it passes” as part of the omnibus.

The refugee legislation is a response to last month’s deadly attacks in Paris, where an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terrorist is believed to have posed as a Syrian refugee to gain entry to Europe. McCaul and other lawmakers have warned that terrorists could try to infiltrate refugee populations being allowed in the U.S.

The bill, authored by both McCaul and Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), temporarily halts Obama’s plan to allow thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the U.S. until authorities can verify that none of them pose a security threat. Specifically, it would require the Homeland Security secretary, FBI director, and Director of National Intelligence to sign off on any refugees admitted to the U.S., holding them personally accountable.

McCaul isn’t the only Texas Republican trying to get his refugee legislation included in the omnibus. Freshman Rep. Brian Babin is spearheading an effort to attach his bill, which would block federal funding for refugees from the Middle East and North Africa until authorities can determine the refugee program won’t serve as a “Trojan horse” for terrorists.

But McCaul expressed reservations about another defunding effort, citing the GOP’s failed attempt to block funding for the Homeland Security Department over objections to Obama’s executive action on immigration.

“The defunding strategy doesn’t work, it hasn’t worked, it always dies in the Senate,” where 60 votes are needed to defeat a Democratic filibuster, McCaul said. His would be a policy-focused bill "that says we need a robust authorization process.”

Both Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanReid: Intelligence community should 'fake it' on Trump’s briefings Trump steals the spotlight at Democratic convention Spokesman denies that Trump invited Russia to hack Clinton MORE (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have said a number of legislative “riders,” offered by both Democrats and Republicans, will be included in the omnibus. But speaking to reporters Monday, McCarthy wouldn’t identify any specific proposals.

House Republicans will huddle Tuesday morning to discuss the omnibus, how Congress should respond to recent terror threats and other issues.

In addition to the refugees bill, the House next week is expected to vote on a package of bills to tighten the program that allows foreigners to travel to the U.S. without a visa.

Among other things, the legislation would require all Visa Waiver Program countries to issue e-Passports containing chips with biometrics by a certain deadline, and require that these countries submit information to Interpol on lost or stolen passports.