FEATURED:

Pressure builds to block refugees

Pressure builds to block refugees
© Getty Images

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 RyanGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel Ryan signals support for sanctions if Saudis killed Khashoggi MORE (R-Wis.) should either “reject the importation of those fleeing the Middle East” or resign, while Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Noisy democracy, or rude people behaving like children? Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks 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 CruzProtesters confront Cruz at airport over Kavanaugh vote O'Rourke targets Cruz with several attack ads a day after debate Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage 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 ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaCampaign staffers sue Illinois Dem governor candidate over alleged racial discrimination Bipartisanship is a greater danger than political polarization GOP group makes late play in Iowa seat once seen as lost MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMueller's team asking Manafort about Roger Stone: report O'Rourke targets Cruz with several attack ads a day after debate GOP pollster says polls didn't pick up on movement in week before 2016 election 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 Obama, 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 RubioGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia On The Money: Treasury official charged with leaking info on ex-Trump advisers | Trump to seek 5 percent budget cut from Cabinet members | Mnuchin to decide by Thursday on attending Saudi conference Mnuchin to decide by Thursday whether to attend Saudi conference 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 ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump Jr. to campaign in West Virginia for Manchin challenger Dems go on offense against GOP lawsuit on pre-existing conditions Credit union group to spend .8 million for vulnerable Dem, GOP incumbents MORE (W.Va.) signed a letter sponsored by two vulnerable Republican incumbents, Sens. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThis week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday High stakes as Trump heads to Hill MORE (Ill.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteElection Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms GOP mulls having outside counsel question Kavanaugh, Ford Pallbearers, speakers announced for McCain's DC memorial service and Capitol ceremony 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 GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTrump officials ratchet up drug pricing fight Dems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October American Bar Association dropping Kavanaugh review MORE (R-Iowa) earlier this month wrote a letter to Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranThe Hill's Morning Report — Kavanaugh ordeal thrusts FBI into new political jam GOP Senate candidate to African Americans: Stop begging for 'government scraps' Trump endorses Hyde-Smith in Mississippi Senate race MORE (R-Miss.) — the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee — and ranking Democrat Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiAthletic directors honor best former student-athletes on Capitol Hill Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Robert Mueller's forgotten surveillance crime spree MORE (Md.), threatening to block funding for refugees until the administration crafts a comprehensive national security plan.

Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsMcGahn departs as White House counsel The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump requests Turkey's evidence on missing journalist | Takeaways from Texas Senate debate | Key Mueller findings could be ready after midterms The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — GOP faces ‘green wave’ in final stretch to the midterms 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 GrahamGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Five things to know about 'MBS,' Saudi Arabia's crown prince 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.