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Goodlatte: Administration undercut law, Congress by setting refugee cap

Goodlatte: Administration undercut law, Congress by setting refugee cap
© Anna Moneymaker

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteBottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden Press: Trump's final presidential pardon: himself MORE (R-Va.) on Thursday accused the State Department of defying the law by proposing a sharp reduction in refugees to the United States.

The charge marks a rare rebuke of the administration from Goodlatte, who wants officials to consult “immediately” with Congress before establishing a final cap on refugees to be accepted into the country next year.

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“The law is clear: the Administration must consult with Congress prior to the President’s determination of the annual refugee ceiling,” Goodlatte said in a statement. “But this did not happen this year, and the Trump Administration has no excuse for not complying with their obligation under the law.”

The charge comes three days after Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoO'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Israeli military instructed to prepare for Trump strike on Iran: report Biden's State Department picks are a diplomatic slam dunk MORE announced a cap of 30,000 refugees to be resettled in the U.S. in fiscal year 2019, which begins Oct. 1. The figure marks a sharp decrease in the 45,000 cap this year, and a free-fall from the 110,000-refugee ceiling President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE inherited from the Obama administration.

Democrats have pounced on the cutbacks, warning that the administration is undermining the country’s historic role and international credibility as the world’s safe-harbor for threatened populations and a champion of human rights.

Republican critics have focused less on the figures than on the legality of the administration’s move to establish a cap without first seeking input from Congress. Earlier this week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 On The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus Loeffler to continue to self-isolate after conflicting COVID-19 test results MORE (R-Iowa) condemned the administration’s unilateral move.

“While I appreciate the administration’s commitment to protecting national security and public safety by proposing a refugee cap, which accounts for the need to conduct adequate and thorough screenings of all who seek this benefit,” Grassley said Tuesday, “it is imperative the agencies abide by their statutory mandate to consult with Congress before any number is proposed.”

Goodlatte took that criticism a step further, suggesting no refugee cap can be legally established without Congress weighing in first.

“There is a real question as to whether the President can even set a number of refugees that carries the weight of law unless it is done after an appropriate consultation with Congress,” Goodlatte said.

He’s also calling for reforms that would empower Congress, not the administration, to have the ultimate say in determining that annual number.

“The Administration’s lack of consultation underscores once again why this process is fundamentally flawed and why the refugee program is in need of reform,” Goodlatte said. “Congress, not the President, should set the annual refugee ceiling.”

On Tuesday, the day after Pompeo’s announcement, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the administration plans to consult with Congress before finalizing its refugee ceiling. The cap “may” change, she said, based on those talks.

“The administration will have consultations with Congress,” Nauert told reporters in a press call. “After those consultations with Congress, the president will then be able to make his determination. So the number that was announced yesterday may not be the final number.”