© Greg Nash
Senate Democrats are rallying around a push to increase the number of Syrian refugees accepted into the United States, amid growing Republican calls to halt the program after last Friday's Paris attacks.
"Several people have reacted to the tragedy in France ... by calling for us to suspend refugees coming to this country. Many of these people have not reflected on the refugee situation," Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks 91 House Dems call on Senate to expand immigration protections in Biden spending bill Bipartisan senators press FBI, inspector general for changes following Nassar case MORE (D-Ill.) said, adding that calls to halt the acceptance of refugees are "shortsighted" and a "retreat from American values."
The Senate's No. 2 Democrat added that "these refugees are each carefully investigated, reviewed, and vetted. ... We do everything humanly possible and take extraordinary efforts to make certain that dangerous people do not arrive on our shores."
Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichThis Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Degrees not debt will grow the economy Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall MORE (D-N.M.) added that calls to block Syrian refugees from coming into the country "represents giving in to our worst ethnic and religious prejudices."
"Syria is a war zone and we have a duty to ensure our own homeland security," he added. "[But] let's remember that the enemy in the current scenario is ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria], not the refugees who flee from their destruction."
Republicans are suggesting that the attacks in Paris, which killed 129 people and injured hundreds more, underscore their long-held national security concerns that a member of a terrorist organization could sneak into the United States disguised as a refugee.
The terrorist group ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, and one fake passport suggested that at least one of the attackers posed as a Syrian refugee, accessing France through Greece.
Democrats have walked a fine line on the refugee issue as pressure grows on lawmakers to, at least temporarily, suspend the refugee program in the wake of the Paris attacks.
The House's plan to vote this week on halting the administration's plan could set up a tough vote for Democrats going into the 2016 election where national security will likely be a top issue.
In the wake of the attacks, Democratic Sens. Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsSenators: US allies concerned Senate won't pass annual defense bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - House to vote on Biden social spending bill after McCarthy delay Can America prevent a global warming cold war? MORE (D-Del.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinProgressive groups urge Feinstein to back filibuster carve out for voting rights or resign Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Five faces from the media who became political candidates MORE (D-Calif.) both stressed that the administration must carefully and thoroughly vet any refugees accepted into the country.
Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinIt's time for Congress to guarantee Medigap Health Insurance for vulnerable Americans with kidney disease Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Democrats plow ahead as Manchin yo-yos MORE (D-Md.), the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, added that lawmakers first "should understand the vetting process."
He added that the process for refugees entering the United States is vastly different than when refugees enter Europe.
"I think it's inconsistent with using the American Refugee Program to try to embed a terrorist to come into the United States," he said. "The vetting process involves many agencies, takes a long period of time, and we do make sure that they have no affiliations with any terrorist organizations. … So there's a very, very rigorous vetting process that takes place."
But the fight over refugees is already showing cracks among Democrats. Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinKlobuchar confident spending bill will be finished before Christmas Democratic frustration growing over stagnating voting rights bills Key senators to watch on Democrats' social spending bill MORE (D-W.Va.) signed a letter to Obama on Monday, saying that no Syrian refugees should be accepted “unless the U.S. government can guarantee, with 100 percent assurance" that they are not affiliated with ISIS.
Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats plow ahead as Manchin yo-yos Senate advances defense bill after delay Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Senators to take up defense bill Wednesday MORE (D-Va.), however, called the largely Republican comments to halt the acceptance of refugees "wrongheaded," adding, "It saddens me."
"Should we make sure that our vetting processes are fine? Of course we should," he added. "But we're not going to let in a pregnant woman, we're not going to let in five-year-old kids? I mean, is that who America is these days?"
Kaine and Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeRubio vows to slow-walk Biden's China, Spain ambassador nominees Senate confirms Thomas Nides as US ambassador to Israel Flake, Cindy McCain among latest Biden ambassadors confirmed after delay MORE (R-Ariz.), are expected to renew their call for legislation authorizing the war against ISIS on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon.
Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThe Hill's Morning Report - Ins and outs: Powell renominated at Fed, Parnell drops Senate bid On The Money — Biden sticks with Powell despite pressure Welch to seek Senate seat in Vermont MORE (D-Vt.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Biden move to tap oil reserves draws GOP pushback MORE (R-S.C.) introduced legislation earlier this year that would give the administration an extra $1 billion in funding to help combat the refugee crisis. While Graham appeared to distance himself from that legislation on Monday, Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyRepublicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall Senate Democrats call on Biden to push for COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers at WTO Israel signals confidence in its relationship with Biden MORE (D-Conn.) suggested the extra money is "more important now."
"You need it to help build and add to an air-tight vetting system. This is moment where we should be supporting more funding for refugee resettlement," he said. "I think it's a complete to think you can cut off immigration from country and make this country safe."