White House tries to shift terrorism debate from refugees to guns
© Getty Images

The White House on Monday opened up a new fight with Republicans in Congress, challenging them to pass laws to prevent suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms. 

After suffering a defeat with a House vote to clamp down the flow of Syrian refugees, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Congress’s response to the Paris terror attacks has been misguided.


“Members of Congress are prepared to allow those individuals who are already in the United States and are suspected of having links to terrorism of going and purchasing a firearm,” he told reporters. 

“I think that is a pretty clear indication that Republicans in Congress are more interested in playing politics and more scared of the NRA than they are concerned about doing the right thing for our national security,” he said, referring to the National Rifle Association.

The White House is bolstering calls from Democrats to pass legislation aimed at blocking suspected terrorists from buying guns, including from Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBottom line Voters need to feel the benefit, not just hear the message Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama MORE (D-Nev.).

“As people are sitting around the Thanksgiving table, as I’m sure they will all across the country, I hope that is a question that will be raised,” Earnest said. “I’m not even sure why that’s even controversial.”

Past efforts to pass similar legislation have failed thanks to staunch opposition from gun-rights groups and GOP lawmakers. 

Jennifer Baker, a spokeswoman for the NRA, last week said that it is "appalling that anti-gun politicians are exploiting the Paris terrorist attacks to push their gun-control agenda and distract from President Obama’s failed foreign policy."

"The NRA does not want terrorists or dangerous people to have firearms. Any suggestion otherwise is offensive and wrong," Baker said. 

The gun proposal is unlikely to have legs in the GOP-controlled Congress. Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' MORE (R-Wis.) demurred when asked about the issue last week. 

"We are just beginning this process of reassessing all of our security stances,” he said. 

The White House is also looking to shift attention away from the refugee issue, which has been a political albatross for President Obama. 

The House voted in overwhelming, bipartisan fashion for the proposal to freeze the Syrian refugee program despite a last-minute lobbying push from top White House officials. 

Earnest chided lawmakers who cited the White House’s flat sales pitch as their reason for voting for the bill. 

“So, they took a vote on a significant national security issue that they didn’t understand?” he asked. “Is that right? I haven’t heard anybody say that, but that would be news.”