Pressure builds to block refugees

Pressure builds to block refugees
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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.

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With the administration suggesting that states might not have the power to refuse the refugees, the issue is moving quickly into the congressional arena.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike ­Huckabee said Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDem: Ex-lawmaker tried to pin me to elevator door and kiss me Two months later: Puerto Rico doesn’t have power, education or economy running again On Capitol Hill, few name names on sexual harassment MORE (R-Wis.) should either “reject the importation of those fleeing the Middle East” or resign, while Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCongress must end American support for Saudi war in Yemen Black men get longer prison sentences than white men for same crimes: study Sarah Palin on sexual harassment: 'People know I'm probably packing' so they 'don't mess with me' MORE (Ky.), another presidential candidate, proposed legislation that would impose an “immediate moratorium on visas for refugees” from countries with “jihadist movements.”

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTexas Republicans slam White House over disaster relief request Dem rep: Trump disaster aid request is 'how you let America down again' Moore endorsements disappear from campaign website 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 Hussein ObamaReport: FCC chair to push for complete repeal of net neutrality Right way and wrong way Keystone XL pipeline clears major hurdle despite recent leak MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonO’Malley tells Dems not to fear Trump FBI informant gathered years of evidence on Russian push for US nuclear fuel deals, including Uranium One, memos show Pelosi blasts California Republicans for supporting tax bill 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 Antonio RubioCongress faces growing health care crisis in Puerto Rico The Hill's 12:30 Report Colbert mocks Trump for sipping water during speech on Asia trip 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 ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  Overnight Finance: House passes sweeping tax bill in huge victory for GOP | Senate confirms banking regulator | Mulvaney eyed for interim head of consumer agency Overnight Regulation: Senators unveil bipartisan gun background check bill | FCC rolls back media regs | Family leave credit added to tax bill | Senate confirms banking watchdog MORE (W.Va.) signed a letter sponsored by two vulnerable Republican incumbents, Sens. Mark KirkMark KirkHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns MORE (Ill.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteExplaining Democratic victories: It’s gun violence, stupid Trump voter fraud panel member fights back against critics Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada 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 GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyFBI informant gathered years of evidence on Russian push for US nuclear fuel deals, including Uranium One, memos show Klobuchar taking over Franken's sexual assault bill Lawyer: Kushner is 'the hero' in campaign emails regarding Russia MORE (R-Iowa) earlier this month wrote a letter to Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranTrump asks for another billion in disaster aid Congressional leaders eyeing two-year caps deal up to 0 billion Senate passes resolution requiring mandatory sexual harassment training MORE (R-Miss.) — the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee — and ranking Democrat Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiClinton: White House slow-walking Russia sanctions Top Lobbyists 2017: Hired Guns Gore wishes Mikulski a happy birthday at 'Inconvenient Sequel' premiere MORE (Md.), threatening to block funding for refugees until the administration crafts a comprehensive national security plan.

Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsFederal judge rules Trump defunding sanctuary cities 'unconstitutional on its face' FBI informant gathered years of evidence on Russian push for US nuclear fuel deals, including Uranium One, memos show Alabama election has GOP racing against the clock 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 Olin GrahamAlabama election has GOP racing against the clock Graham on Moore: 'We are about to give away a seat' key to Trump's agenda Tax plans show Congress putting donors over voters 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.