Classified briefing does little to sway House GOP on Syrian refugees

Classified briefing does little to sway House GOP on Syrian refugees
 
Partisan divisions over continuing to allow refugees fleeing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) into the U.S. deepened Tuesday as Obama administration officials briefed the House on last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris.
 
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and FBI Director James Comey offered House members a classified briefing following the Friday massacre in the French capital that killed more than 120. Senators are expected to be briefed Wednesday.
 
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Johnson said he reviewed the domestic security "enhancements" enacted in recent days following the attacks in Paris.
 
He further maintained that the U.S. should continue allowing vetted Syrian refugees into the country despite calls from Republicans to halt the program in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.
 
"I believe that a lot of countries in the world right now are looking to the United States for leadership," Johnson told reporters after the briefing. 
 
"It is a careful, time-consuming process. And we are committed to continuing that process with regard to Syrian refugees," he said.
 
Intelligence and law enforcement officials have previously warned about “gaps” in the data that they can scan to screen refugees headed to the U.S.
 
On Tuesday, Republicans indicated that Johnson and Comey had not quelled their concerns about those blind spots.
 
The House plans to vote Thursday on legislation to require refugees from Syria and Iraq to undergo FBI background checks. The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI would further have to verify that the refugees do not pose security threats.
 
Both chambers are expected to adjourn Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday recess, adding pressure on lawmakers to act quickly before they depart Washington.
 
There is “really very little information about these refugees’ past,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said after the briefing.
 
“You don’t know who they are and you don’t have anything about their past, in terms of intelligence or databases," McCaul said.
 
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said Syrian refugees presented a risk because they "come from a terrorist country, where there's a large amount of ISIS and al Qaeda."
 
King also said he thought allowing visa waivers to Europeans who travel to the U.S. was ”definitely something that has to be looked at, because circumstances have changed." 
 
 
Democrats are largely standing by the president’s plan, arguing that the rigorous screening process ought to account for any gaps in security.
 
 
 
"It takes two years, most times, to come through this process," said Smith, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. 
 
"It's worth noting that the evidence at this point — aside from this one mysterious passport, which hasn't been attributed to anybody — that the people who committed the attacks in France were all born in France or Belgium," he added. 
 
As both sides dig in, however, the effort seems destined to be largely partisan.   
 
“Anything constructive would be welcome,” said Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump: Jews who vote Democrat show 'lack of knowledge or great disloyalty' Are Democrats turning Trump-like? Schiff offers bill to make domestic terrorism a federal crime MORE (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “But I think there would be a lot of resistance within the Democratic caucus on an effort to close the door on mothers and children who are fleeing the violence around the world. “
 
Asked whether he was concerned about Republicans potentially trying to halt the refugee program through an upcoming government spending bill, Johnson noted that the agency that vets refugee applications isn't subject to the congressional appropriations process. 
 
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is funded through application fees.
 
"It's an organization that pays for itself," Johnson said.