GOP puts Obama on notice over visa carve-outs

Key Republicans in both chambers of Congress have sent letters to the Obama administration making new demands in the wake of the administration’s changes to a law meant to protect the country from foreign extremists.  

GOP critics were livid at the White House last week when it included a number of exceptions to new rules barring people who have traveled from designated terrorist hotspots from being able to enter the U.S. without a visa. 

The twin missives this week appear to come as part of an official rebuke for the administration’s decisions, which GOP lawmakers have called illegal.

On Thursday, five top House Republicans demanded that President Obama hand over “a detailed description of each and every waiver” granted under the controversial carve-outs. 

They also appeared to raise the prospect of more concerted action, warning that GOP leaders were “reviewing our options to ensure this law is implemented as it was enacted by Congress.”

Thursday’s letter was signed by No. 2 House Republican Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), as well as the GOP chairman of the Homeland Security, Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), who introduced the law intending to target foreign extremists, also signed on.

The House lawmakers’ letter comes a day after Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) similarly scolded the Department of Homeland Security, and demanded that it justify its administrative decision. 

Under the law, people who are dual citizens of or who have recently traveled to Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan cannot enter the country through a tourist program designed to speed up travel for residents of 38 countries. People who fall under the legislation’s domain would still be able to visit the U.S., but they would first have to obtain a visa, which would slow the process down considerably. 

The legislation included a provision allowing the government to waive the visa requirement if it was “in the law enforcement or national security interests of the United States.” 

However, when the administration began to implement the law last week, it listed a number of categories of people who might have the visa requirement waived, including journalists, diplomats and aid workers. The administration also reserved the right to waive the visa requirement for people traveling to Iran for "legitimate business-related purposes" following the implementation of the nuclear deal last year.

The waivers will be handed out on a case-by-case basis, officials say.

Those exceptions were “explicitly rejected” during negotiations about the bill, the lawmakers wrote in their Thursday letter; making them anyway violates “not only the agreement we reached but the law itself.”

“We remain troubled that assurances of an agreement reached between Congress and your administration do not seem to ensure implementation as intended pursuant to such agreement," they told Obama.