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White House officials on Tuesday held a conference call with governors about its plans to take in more refugees from Syria, after dozens of state leaders rejected the program following the Paris terror attacks.
Governors from 34 states participated in the 90-minute call, led by White House chief of staff Denis McDonoughDenis McDonoughThe Hill's 12:30 Report Obama, Trump display unity in White House meeting Dark days for Obama’s White House MORE, and 13 governors asked questions about the program, the White House said in a statement.
"The officials briefed the governors on the rigorous screening and security vetting process that is required before a refugee is able to travel to the United States," the statement said.
More than half of the nation's governors have objected to the President Obama's plan to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. next year, part of a wave of opposition to the refugees that formed Monday.
Senior Obama administration officials said earlier Tuesday that governors legally cannot block resettlement of refugees, stressing that refugees are free to travel anywhere in the U.S. once they arrive.
But the officials made it clear that the federal refugee resettlement program is dependent on support from local communities.
“We don’t want to send refugees anywhere where they would not be welcomed,” one official told reporters on a conference call.
The group of 28 governors, all but one of them Republican, have expressed concern that letting Syrian refugees into their states is a threat to national security. It is suspected that one of the Paris attackers slipped into Europe with a group of Syrian refugees.
"Administration officials reiterated what the president has made abundantly clear: that his top priority is the safety of the American people," the White House said. "That’s why, even as the United States accepts more refugees — including Syrians — we do so only after they undergo the most rigorous screening and security vetting of any category of traveler to the United States."
The White House said several governors "expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to better understand the process and have their issues addressed directly by representatives of the agencies responsible for the refugee and screening programs."
Others asked for "further communication" with the administration "to ensure that governors are able to better respond to questions from the public about the refugee screening and resettlement process."