National Security

Obama: ‘Shameful’ to propose ‘religious test’ for refugees

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President Obama on Monday condemned calls from Republican presidential candidates to only allow Christian refugees from Syria into the United States, describing the push as “shameful” and “not American.”

In a press conference following the G-20 meeting in Antalya, Turkey, Obama dug in his heels on allowing 10,000 new refugees into the country this year despite increasing opposition from conservatives following the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday evening.

{mosads}“The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism, they are the most vulnerable as a consequence of civil war and strife,” Obama said in an unprompted defense of his plan.

Obama’s ire appeared directed at presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), who over the weekend called for the U.S. to focus on the Christians fleeing the Syrian chaos.

“When I hear folks say that, ‘Maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims,’ when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful,” Obama said.

Cruz’s family is from Cuba. The Texan often mentions how his father sought refuge in the U.S. to flee the repressive Communist island.

Over the weekend, both Cruz and Bush said that the attacks in Paris ought to prompt a change in the Obama administration’s plan to admit more Syrian refugees.

“We need to be working to provide a safe haven for those Christians who are being persecuted and facing genocide, and at the same time we shouldn’t be letting terrorists into America,” Cruz said at a campaign stop in South Carolina.

“There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror,” Cruz added to reporters, according to The Washington Post. “If there were a group of radical Christians pledging to murder anyone who had a different religious view than they, we would have a different national security situation.”

Bush took a similar line.

“We should focus our efforts as it relates to the refugees with the Christians that are being slaughtered,” Bush said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“That’s not American,” Obama retorted on Monday, without specifically referencing Bush or Cruz by name. “That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

In what seemed to be a pointed jab at Bush — who has chided Obama and prominent Democrats for refraining to discuss “radical Islam” — the president on Monday offered rare praise for former President George W. Bush.

Obama was “proud,” he said, to hear the former president maintain in the months after 9/11 that the U.S. was not at war with Islam, but rather a specific terrorist group.

“It is good to remember that the United States does not have a religious test and we are a nation of many peoples of different faiths, which mean that we show compassion to everybody,” Obama said. “Those are the universal values we stand for.

“We have to each of us do our part, and the United States has to step up and do its part,” he added.

On Capitol Hill and cable news shows, conservatives and defense hawks have long questioned the White House’s plan to ramp up the number of refugees allowed into the country. Those concerns appear likely to reach a fever pitch following Friday night’s violence in Paris, which appears to have been carried out by at least one man who slipped into France while posing as a refugee.

Six Republican governors have already said they will not allow Syrian refugees to resettle in their states in the wake of the Paris attacks.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley issued statements Sunday saying that they wanted to prioritize the safety of the residents in their states. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, presidential candidate and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence joined them on Monday.

Of the more than 4 million Syrian refugees, the U.S. so far has only accepted roughly 2,000, a number that pales in comparison to the millions flowing into Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and other neighboring countries.

— This story was last updated at 12:07 p.m.

Tags Barack Obama Jeb Bush Syrian refugees
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