This week: Senate faces fight over refugees

The Senate is heading toward a fight over legislation to “pause” the acceptance of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) teed up a procedural vote for Wednesday afternoon on whether to take up a House-passed bill. 

The legislation includes new screening requirements that would effectively freeze the admittance of new refugees until the administration can verify that they aren’t a threat to national security. 

{mosads}While the Republican leader pledged to take up refugee legislation during early 2016, the timing of the vote comes after the Justice Department announced the arrest of two Iraqi-born Palestinians, who had entered the country as refugees, on terrorism-related charges. 

The arrests sparked calls from House and Senate Republicans for the upper chamber to move legislation to crack down on accepting refugees, over concerns that terrorist groups could use the program to sneak into the United States. 

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), quickly backed McConnell’s move, saying that the administration should have to comply with the new certifications “just as principal executive and financial officers of public companies must certify to the federal government the accuracy of their financial reports.”

Republicans will need 60 votes to overcome Wednesday’s procedural hurdle. If every Republican supports the legislation they would need to get the backing of six Democrats. 

Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have suggested they have the votes to block the legislation from moving forward, even though it got the support of 47 Democrats in the House. 

“It doesn’t stand up to reason that we’re focusing on 70,000 people that are vetted for two years,” Durbin told The Hill last month. 

But a Democratic aide suggested last week that lawmakers hadn’t decided if they would block Republicans from taking up the refugee bill. 

The potential shift comes after Reid said that Democrats will try to force a vote on some of Donald Trump’s most controversial policies, including the GOP presidential frontrunner’s pledge to ban Muslims from entering the country. 

“These votes will give all senators a chance to take a stand on the policy issues dominating the public debate — and Republicans a chance to stand with the frontrunner for their nomination,” the Democratic leader said Thursday in a statement. 

While it’s unclear when Democrats will try to force a vote or what legislation they will use to advance the measure, the refugee proposal could give them an early chance to try to link a handful of vulnerable blue-state Republicans to Trump.

While Senate Republicans broadly dismissed Trump’s push to ban Muslims from entering the country and have shown no signs of affection for Trump, they’ve also been reluctant to completely alienate him or his supporters. 

If they are able to overcome Wednesday’s hurdle, Republicans will also need 60 votes to end debate on the legislation. 

Either way, the White House has threatened to veto the House bill, saying it creates “significant delays and obstacles in the fulfillment of a vital program that satisfies both humanitarian and national security objectives.”


The Senate will also vote on Wilhelmina Marie Wright’s nomination to be a U.S. district judge for the District of Minnesota on Tuesday evening. 

Senators are expected to vote on the nomination at 5:30 p.m., after a half an hour of debate. 

Democrats have repeatedly criticized Republicans for the pace of judicial nomination votes since they took control of the Senate last year. The Senate has confirmed 12 judges since January 2015. 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, hit back at that criticism last week, saying he wanted to “set the record straight on the progress the Senate’s made.”

“I’ve heard a lot of complaining about the pace of judicial nominations this Congress, but I believe actions speak louder than words,” he added. “Furthermore, I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, there is no judicial vacancy ‘crisis.’” 

The vote on Wright’s nomination is part of a deal reached last year to vote on five judicial nominations before the Senate’s recess in mid-February. 

Grassley added that the Judiciary Committee will also continue holding hearings on President Obama’s nominees.

Republicans, however, are under pressure from outside groups to halt nomination votes. Heritage Action said Friday that the Senate should immediately stop confirming non-national security nominees.

“Senators should not grant unanimous consent to schedule any additional nomination votes,” the group added

The House is not in session this week.

Tags Chuck Grassley Dick Durbin Donald Trump Harry Reid Mitch McConnell Ron Johnson

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