Obama, GOP amp up refugee fight

Obama, GOP amp up refugee fight
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The war of words over Syrian refugees between President Obama and leading Republicans is escalating, with both sides injecting personal venom into the debate. 

Obama and his surrogates have fanned the flames, ridiculing Republicans for fearing “orphans” and accusing the GOP of running away from American principles.

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Republicans countered, with Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea GOP state lawmakers meet to plan possible constitutional convention MORE (R-Texas) on Wednesday daring Obama to “insult me to my face” after the president rebuked him from overseas.

The rancor is also apparent in a legislative battle in Congress, with Obama refusing to yield on his plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees next year despite fears it could lead to an attack in the U.S. similar to Friday’s carnage in Paris. 

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 129 people.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration threatened a veto of GOP legislation that would strengthen refugee vetting, arguing it would create needless roadblocks for helping “some of the most vulnerable people in the world, many of whom are victims of terrorism.”

The veto threat — on the eve of a planned House vote on the bill — echoed the biting rhetoric that Obama has employed this week against the Republican presidential candidates.

“First, they were worried about the press being too tough on them during debates. Now, they’re worried about 3-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me,” Obama told reporters Wednesday in the Philippines, an apparent shot at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) statement that not even young Syrian children should be allowed into the U.S.

The slap at Christie came after Obama used a press conference in Turkey to lambaste calls for only resettling Syrian Christians — an idea endorsed by Cruz and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, both GOP presidential hopefuls.

“I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for [ISIS] than some of the rhetoric that’s been coming out of here during the course of this debate,” the president said, calling the push for a religious test “offensive.”

Obama even took a personal shot at Cruz, calling it “shameful” that the push to turn away refugees was coming from people who “themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution.”

Cruz’s father, Rafael, was granted asylum in the United States to escape persecution in Cuba.

Obama’s staff took to Twitter to drive home the argument that Syrian refugees do not pose a national security threat. 

The president’s official account sent a series of tweets reassuring the public that Syrians are only admitted once they “pass the highest security checks.” 

“Slamming the door in the face of refugees would betray our deepest values. That’s not who we are. And it’s not what we’re going to do,” the tweets said. 

Obama’s combative rhetoric is putting Democrats in an awkward spot, with polls indicating the public favors slowing down the refugee flow after the Paris attacks.

But the president, freed from the burdens of running for reelection, isn’t backing down. And neither are the Republicans who want to succeed him in the White House.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, a visibly angry Cruz called Obama’s comments “utterly unbefitting of the president” and challenged him to debate the issue face to face.

“He talked about how he was belittling the Republican field as scared. Well let me suggest something: Mr. President, if you want to insult me, you can do it overseas, you can do it in Turkey, you can do it in foreign countries. But I would encourage you, Mr. President, come back and insult me to my face,” Cruz said. 

Christie said Obama is living in a “fantasyland.”

“It’s a joke. And he’s a joke on this issue,” Christie said of Obama’s criticisms on CNN. 

“The widows and orphans I remember are the ones right after 9/11, and I don’t want to create a new generation of those,” Christie added.

“The president created the refugee crisis by his own unwillingness to act, by his timidity, and the only time he’s not timid is when he’s criticizing Republicans.” 

Another leading GOP presidential hopeful, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Trump bets base will stick with him on immigration MORE (R-Fla.), said Obama’s rhetoric has been “petty.”

“I think yesterday he accused Republicans of serving as a recruitment tool for ISIS,” Rubio said on the “Hannity” radio show. “I mean, these are the kinds of things we come to expect of someone who focuses on the petty, always political, constantly looking to gain the upper hand in some political dispute in the United States domestically as opposed to focusing on his role as commander in chief.”

The feud between Obama and Republicans is feeding into the broader debate about whether the U.S. should rethink its historic role as a safe haven for immigrants and those fleeing conflicts abroad. 

Supporters of Obama’s refugee plan have often invoked World War II, when the U.S. grappled with whether to take in large numbers of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.  

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) even made a comparison between Japanese internment camps and turning away Syrians fleeing ISIS. 

“We regret that we succumbed to fear. We regret that we lost moorage for who we were as a country. We shouldn’t do that right now,” Inslee told NPR in an interview Wednesday.

But Republicans argue that the current screening process for refugees is not strong enough. They point out that one of the Paris attackers reportedly entered Europe through Greece posing as a Syrian refugee. 

They say Obama’s resistance to stronger refugee vetting is emblematic of a broader failure to take on radical Islamic terrorism.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest tussled with “Fox and Friends” co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck Wednesday morning over what she termed Obama’s “cavalier” and “aloof” reaction to the terrorist strikes during the Monday press conference in Turkey. 

Earnest pointed out the president described the attacks as “sickening” and noted he expressed “profound sorrow at what exactly had occurred.”

“I think what I would encourage you to do is to spend just as much time focusing on the president’s actions as you do his words,” Earnest said.