Former SEAL lawmaker hails passage of refugee bill

Former SEAL lawmaker hails passage of refugee bill
© Courtesy of Rep. Ryan Zinke.

Rep. Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks Interior disbands advisory board that floated privatization at national parks Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics MORE (R-Mt.), an Iraq War veteran and retired Navy SEAL commander, hailed the bipartisan House passage of the bill requiring stricter background checks of Iraqi and Syrian refugees, which he helped author. 

"I'm proud of Congress as a body. At the end of the day, we're the people's house and we should be very mindful that we represent the people," he said in an interview with The Hill. 

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"The president was very flippant, and we said if he's not going to take action, Congress will," he said. 

Zinke said although he is a freshman congressman, as the former deputy commander of special operations forces in Iraq, he was able to bring his substantial experience on vetting potential terrorists to the debate. 

"We spent hours and hours and hours, sometimes months, trying to determine who was a terrorist, who isn't," he said. 

He said that although the administration argues that the refugees are women and children, there have been instances where those populations have carried out suicide attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq. 

He said he took particular offense to the president's comment that Republicans were "scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America." 

"To me, that's from a commander in chief that's never been in combat," Zinke said. 

Zinke also said the administration's statistic that only two percent of Syrian refugees being combat-aged males only refers to those who are "unaccompanied."

He also said the administration has also tried to frame the refugees as members of the "minority" population in Iraq, without explicitly saying Sunnis are part of that minority. 

Zinke said after administration officials delivered those "misleading" points during a closed briefing on Tuesday, there was a "groundswell" of skepticism among lawmakers. 

"That gave me pause that we're not getting the truth," he said. 

The bill, dubbed the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act of 2015, was passed 289-137, with 47 Democrats voting in favor of it. 

Introduced by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), the bill requires the directors of the FBI and National Intelligence, as well as the Homeland Security Secretary to certify that a Syrian or Iraqi refugee is not a Security threat to the U.S. 

It also requires the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General to independently assess the refugee approvals, to make sure high-risk individuals do not slip through the cracks.  

McCaul said in a statement, “I appreciate and respect Rep. Zinke’s hard work in putting together this bill for the House Task Force. His experience and expertise as a Navy SEAL was invaluable as we worked toward this plan to pause the Syrian refugee resettlement program until we can ensure the safety of the American people.”

"The vetting process today simply falls short," Zinke said. "This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. If ISIS strikes, it's going to strike Americans -- not Republicans or Democrats. This is not partisan politics."