House to vote this week on bill to ‘pause’ Syrian refugee program

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The House is likely to vote this week on legislation to temporarily halt President Obama’s plan to allow thousands of refugees from Syria to resettle in the U.S., Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told lawmakers on Tuesday.

{mosads}”We shouldn’t accept any Syrian refugees without complete assurance those we are welcoming intend us no harm,” Ryan said during a closed-door meeting with rank-and-file Republicans.

Later, in remarks to reporters, Ryan called for a “pause” in the U.S. refugee program until authorities can verify that terrorists are not trying to “infiltrate” the refugee population.

“Our nation has always been welcoming, but we cannot let terrorists take advantage of our compassion,” Ryan told reporters. “This is a moment where it’s better to be safe than to be sorry.”

Ryan’s remarks came just days after a string of terrorist attacks in Paris killed about 130 people. A fake passport found by one of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) suicide bombers suggested that he had posed as a Syrian refugee, accessing France through Greece.

Those developments fueled worries among Republicans on Capitol Hill about Obama’s proposal to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he has created a task force, comprised of committee chairmen, to look at short-term and long-term solutions to address the refugees.

Among those serving on the task force are Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), both of whom spoke during Tuesday’s private meeting. Others in the group are Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas), Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.).

The task force hasn’t settled on a specific plan of action for this week, but is poring over several pieces of refugee-focused bills that have already been introduced.

One bill, authored by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) and backed by McCaul, would freeze Obama’s refugee plan until several requirements are met and the American people can be assured that no terrorist will be admitted into our country, Hudson’s office said.

An idea that’s been floated by some Republicans is to block funding for the refugee program in the omnibus spending bill that must be passed by Dec. 11, setting up a government shutdown showdown with the Obama administration and Democratic allies.

But Ryan said waiting several weeks to act might be too late.

“We don’t want to wait that long. We want to work and act on this faster than that,” he said.

America’s ultimate goal, Ryan said, is to decimate ISIS.

“Containing ISIS is not enough. Defeating ISIS is what is necessary and we do not have that comprehensive plan in place,” Ryan said.

At Ryan’s request, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and FBI Director James Comey will hold a classified brief on Friday’s Paris attacks for all House members Tuesday afternoon at 5:30 p.m.

House Democratic leaders hammered the Republicans’ “knee-jerk” reaction to the Paris tragedy, accusing the GOP of moving so quickly on a bill “based on fear and … politics,” in the words of Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus.

The Democrats suggested they could support legislation that bolsters the screening process but not a proposal that simply cuts off the route to refugee status based on specific criteria, such as religion or nationality.

“As a son of immigrants, that hurts,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus said Tuesday during a press briefing in the Capitol.

“We’re all open to find out if there’s some ways to make the refugee program better, work smarter, protect those who are innocent [and] truly in fear of their lives or their children’s lives. … There, I think you’re going to find every single member of Congress is supportive of that,” Becerra added. “Shutting the door of America completely to those who are seeking asylum or refuge is not our tradition.”

Mike Lillis contributed to this report, which was updated at 11:31 a.m.

Tags Bob Goodlatte ISIS Paris attacks Paul Ryan Syrian refugees Xavier Becerra
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