Congress is coming under intense pressure to block the entry of Syrian refugees into the United States following the deadly terrorist assaults on Paris Friday evening.
A wave of opposition to the refugees formed on Monday, with Republican presidential hopefuls and more than a dozen governors warning that the humanitarian effort is a threat to national security.
With the administration suggesting that states might not have the power to refuse the refugees, the issue is moving quickly into the congressional arena.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanCheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge Paul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book MORE (R-Wis.) should either “reject the importation of those fleeing the Middle East” or resign, while Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 White House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (Ky.), another presidential candidate, proposed legislation that would impose an “immediate moratorium on visas for refugees” from countries with “jihadist movements.”
Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump-backed challenger to Cheney decried him as 'racist,' 'xenophobic' in 2016: report FBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp The Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio MORE (R-Texas), another White House hopeful, said he will be introducing legislation that would ban all Muslim Syrian refugees from entering the United States.
“What Barack Obama and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE are proposing is that we bring to this country tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees,” Cruz told CNN’s Dana Bash.
“I have to say, particularly in light of what happened in Paris, that’s nothing short of lunacy.”
With the calls for action mounting, GOP leaders could move to hold a vote on the refugee question before the Thanksgiving break, less than a week after the shocking slaughter in Paris.
The attacks on the French capital were discussed extensively during Ryan’s weekly GOP leadership meeting Monday, sources said. His team is debating possible congressional responses, including a vote in the coming weeks on halting funding for Syrian refugees.
The House will pass a resolution this week condemning Friday’s attacks.
“There is no question our caucus believes that American national security should be paramount,” Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), a member of leadership, told The Hill.
“At a minimum, we need to find a way to require the administration to certify that the folks who do come here are not national security risks.”
Ryan was noncommittal Monday about how he would proceed.
“We’re looking at all of our options about how do we make sure something like this doesn’t happen here to us with refugees,” he said in an interview with conservative talk show host Bill Bennett.
The debate over resettlement took on emotional force after French authorities reported that one of the eight known attackers is believed to have entered Europe through Greece among a group of Syrian refugees.
Governors from Michigan, Alabama, Indiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Georgia and Maine have all said they would not resettle Syrian refugees out of fear that extremists could slip into the United States.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who are all Republican presidential candidates, were among the governors rejecting the refugees on Monday. The group also included New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), who is running for the Senate in a must-win state for Democrats.
The sweeping backlash to resettlement drew an angry response from President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama says US 'desperately needs' Biden legislation ahead of key votes Obamas to break ground Tuesday on presidential center in Chicago A simple fix can bring revolutionary change to health spending MORE, who criticized the Republican presidential candidates during a press conference in Turkey.
“We do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism,” Obama said at the Group of 20 summit, adding, “Even as we accept more refugees, including Syrians, we do so only after subjecting them to rigorous screening and security checks.”
Without mentioning them by name, Obama chastised former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and Cruz — both running to succeed him in 2016 — for suggesting that the United States should only allow entry for refugees who are Christian.
“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 benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful,” Obama said. “That’s not American, it’s not who we are.”
It remains unclear whether governors opposed to resettlement can refuse to participate, since the program falls under federal jurisdiction.
The State Department, which oversees the refugee program, said it was reviewing whether states have the power to pull out.
“As to the legal aspects, we’re looking at all that stuff,” spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. “I just don’t have a clear and definitive answer for you at this point.”
The real battle likely lies in Congress, where Republican leaders are facing pressure to take action from rank-and-file members and their leading presidential candidates.
Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Gen. Milley faces his toughest day yet on Capitol Hill The Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio MORE (Fla.), a top-tier presidential hopeful, said the administration has no way to properly vet refugees before allowing them entry.
“There’s no way to background check someone that’s coming from Syria. Who do you call and do a background check on them?” Rubio said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Cruz, meanwhile, has discussed sponsoring a Senate version of the Resettlement Accountability National Security Act, which would suspend the refugee resettlement program until the Government Accountability Office conducts a review, according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas).
Republicans are seeking to drive a wedge between Obama and congressional Democrats ahead of an election year when national security is expected to be a top concern of voters. So far, Democratic leaders have kept their ranks mostly unified, but defectors are already emerging.
Centrist Democratic Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinProtesters demonstrate outside Manchin's houseboat over opposition to reconciliation package Security policy expert: Defense industry donations let lawmakers 'ignore public opinion' Manchin cast doubt on deal this week for .5T spending bill MORE (W.Va.) signed a letter sponsored by two vulnerable Republican incumbents, Sens. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE (Ill.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyottePoll: Potential Sununu-Hassan matchup in N.H. a dead heat Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal Sununu seen as top recruit in GOP bid to reclaim Senate MORE (N.H.), urging that no refugee from the Syrian crisis be admitted to the country “unless the U.S. government can guarantee, with 100 percent assurance, that they are not members, supporters, or sympathizers of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”
Legislation to restrict Obama’s refugee program could set up a tough vote for some Democrats, who may be forced to choose between backing their president and responding to public fears about a potential terrorist attack in the United States.
The brewing fight could become an obstacle to finishing a year-end government funding bill by Dec. 11. Republicans want to include language in the omnibus measure that would halt federal funding for resettlement.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley announces reelection bid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B MORE (R-Iowa) earlier this month wrote a letter to Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBottom line Bottom line Alabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future MORE (R-Miss.) — the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee — and ranking Democrat Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiHarris invites every female senator to dinner next week Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? Bottom line MORE (Md.), threatening to block funding for refugees until the administration crafts a comprehensive national security plan.
Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, said Congress should cancel what he called the “blank check” for refugee resettlement in the omnibus.
“Under current admissions policies, we can be expected to resettle another nearly 700,000 migrants from Muslim countries over the next five years,” Sessions wrote.
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump-backed challenger to Cheney decried him as 'racist,' 'xenophobic' in 2016: report State Department spokesperson tests positive for COVID-19 The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Lawmakers fret over wild week of deadlines MORE (R-S.C.), a back-of-the-pack presidential candidate, called for a “timeout” on accepting Syrian refugees.
“The one thing I’ve learned from Paris is that we need to have a timeout on bringing refugees into this country until we have a system that we think will work,” he told Fox News Radio.
Jesse Byrnes and Julian Hattem contributed.