Congress is coming under intense pressure to block the entry of Syrian refugees into the United States following the deadly terrorist assaults on Paris Friday evening.
A wave of opposition to the refugees formed on Monday, with Republican presidential hopefuls and more than a dozen governors warning that the humanitarian effort is a threat to national security.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP, Trump administration huddles on tax reform Overnight Healthcare: Dems eye deal on ObamaCare subsidies for extra military funding Dems want ObamaCare subsidies funded in exchange for B to military MORE (R-Wis.) should either “reject the importation of those fleeing the Middle East” or resign, while Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulWe can put America first by preventing public health disasters Conservative activists want action from Trump McConnell: 'Big challenge' to pass ObamaCare repeal in Senate MORE (Ky.), another presidential candidate, proposed legislation that would impose an “immediate moratorium on visas for refugees” from countries with “jihadist movements.”
Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzKansas Republican sworn in after special election Overnight Finance: Dems want ObamaCare subsidies for extra military spending | Trade battle: Woe, Canada? | Congress nears deal to help miners | WH preps to release tax plan Cruz: Seize money from drug lords to fund border wall MORE (R-Texas), another White House hopeful, said he will be introducing legislation that would ban all Muslim Syrian refugees from entering the United States.
“What Barack ObamaBarack ObamaWhite House appears to inflate job creation stats on first 100 days site Rick Perry: Trump should ‘renegotiate’ Paris climate pact Earnest: Obama won't be Democratic Party's next leader MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonWriter who pushed 'Pizzagate' conspiracy theory says he'll attend WH briefing Ex-Nevada state treasurer may challenge Heller in 2018 Trump administration to honor fallen workers MORE are proposing is that we bring to this country tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees,” Cruz told CNN’s Dana Bash.
“I have to say, particularly in light of what happened in Paris, that’s nothing short of lunacy.”
With the calls for action mounting, GOP leaders could move to hold a vote on the refugee question before the Thanksgiving break, less than a week after the shocking slaughter in Paris.
The attacks on the French capital were discussed extensively during Ryan’s weekly GOP leadership meeting Monday, sources said. His team is debating possible congressional responses, including a vote in the coming weeks on halting funding for Syrian refugees.
The House will pass a resolution this week condemning Friday’s attacks.
“There is no question our caucus believes that American national security should be paramount,” Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), a member of leadership, told The Hill.
“At a minimum, we need to find a way to require the administration to certify that the folks who do come here are not national security risks.”
Ryan was noncommittal Monday about how he would proceed.
“We’re looking at all of our options about how do we make sure something like this doesn’t happen here to us with refugees,” he said in an interview with conservative talk show host Bill Bennett.
The debate over resettlement took on emotional force after French authorities reported that one of the eight known attackers is believed to have entered Europe through Greece among a group of Syrian refugees.
Governors from Michigan, Alabama, Indiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Georgia and Maine have all said they would not resettle Syrian refugees out of fear that extremists could slip into the United States.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who are all Republican presidential candidates, were among the governors rejecting the refugees on Monday. The group also included New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), who is running for the Senate in a must-win state for Democrats.
The sweeping backlash to resettlement drew an angry response from President Obama, who criticized the Republican presidential candidates during a press conference in Turkey.
“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,” Obama said at the Group of 20 summit, adding, “Even as we accept more refugees, including Syrians, we do so only after subjecting them to rigorous screening and security checks.”
Without mentioning them by name, Obama chastised former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and Cruz — both running to succeed him in 2016 — for suggesting that the United States should only allow entry for refugees who are Christian.
“When I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful,” Obama said. “That’s not American, it’s not who we are.”
It remains unclear whether governors opposed to resettlement can refuse to participate, since the program falls under federal jurisdiction.
The State Department, which oversees the refugee program, said it was reviewing whether states have the power to pull out.
“As to the legal aspects, we’re looking at all that stuff,” spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. “I just don’t have a clear and definitive answer for you at this point.”
The real battle likely lies in Congress, where Republican leaders are facing pressure to take action from rank-and-file members and their leading presidential candidates.
Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioTop Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms Rubio defends Trump: 'This whole flip-flop thing is a political thing' Rubio: Shutdown would have 'catastrophic impact' on global affairs MORE (Fla.), a top-tier presidential hopeful, said the administration has no way to properly vet refugees before allowing them entry.
“There’s no way to background check someone that’s coming from Syria. Who do you call and do a background check on them?” Rubio said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Cruz, meanwhile, has discussed sponsoring a Senate version of the Resettlement Accountability National Security Act, which would suspend the refugee resettlement program until the Government Accountability Office conducts a review, according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas).
Republicans are seeking to drive a wedge between Obama and congressional Democrats ahead of an election year when national security is expected to be a top concern of voters. So far, Democratic leaders have kept their ranks mostly unified, but defectors are already emerging.
Centrist Democratic Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenate votes to confirm Rosenstein as deputy attorney general Congress nears deal on help for miners McConnell backs miners health fix in funding bill MORE (W.Va.) signed a letter sponsored by two vulnerable Republican incumbents, Sens. Mark KirkMark KirkThe way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump ObamaCare repeal bill would defund Planned Parenthood Leaked ObamaCare bill would defund Planned Parenthood MORE (Ill.) and Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteBottom Line How Gorsuch's confirmation shapes the next Supreme Court battle THE MEMO: Trump set to notch needed win with Gorsuch MORE (N.H.), urging that no refugee from the Syrian crisis be admitted to the country “unless the U.S. government can guarantee, with 100 percent assurance, that they are not members, supporters, or sympathizers of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”
Legislation to restrict Obama’s refugee program could set up a tough vote for some Democrats, who may be forced to choose between backing their president and responding to public fears about a potential terrorist attack in the United States.
The brewing fight could become an obstacle to finishing a year-end government funding bill by Dec. 11. Republicans want to include language in the omnibus measure that would halt federal funding for resettlement.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyTrump, lower court nominees need American Bar Association review Trump eyeing second Supreme Court seat Grassley: Another Supreme Court vacancy likely this summer MORE (R-Iowa) earlier this month wrote a letter to Sen. Thad CochranThad CochranPicking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Overnight Defense: FBI chief confirms Trump campaign, Russia probe | Senators push for Afghan visas | Problems persist at veterans' suicide hotline Senators ask to include visas for Afghans in spending bill MORE (R-Miss.) — the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee — and ranking Democrat Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiBipartisan friendship is a civil solution to political dysfunction Dems press for paycheck fairness bill on Equal Pay Day After 30 years celebrating women’s history, have we made enough progress? MORE (Md.), threatening to block funding for refugees until the administration crafts a comprehensive national security plan.
Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsSenate votes to confirm Rosenstein as deputy attorney general C-SPAN to air Trump travel ban arguments live Trump faults DNC in Russian email hacks MORE (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, said Congress should cancel what he called the “blank check” for refugee resettlement in the omnibus.
“Under current admissions policies, we can be expected to resettle another nearly 700,000 migrants from Muslim countries over the next five years,” Sessions wrote.
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamGraham: There are 'no good choices left' with North Korea Graham: North Korea shouldn't underestimate Trump Five key moments from Trump's first 100 days MORE (R-S.C.), a back-of-the-pack presidential candidate, called for a “timeout” on accepting Syrian refugees.
“The one thing I’ve learned from Paris is that we need to have a timeout on bringing refugees into this country until we have a system that we think will work,” he told Fox News Radio.
Jesse Byrnes and Julian Hattem contributed.