It’s no surprise that President Obama and House Republicans are butting heads once again over national security. The issue over which there is continuing disagreement is the GOP effort to stop the entry of Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the U.S. as the result of last week’s Islamic State attacks on Paris.
Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, sponsored the H.R. 4038 – American SAFE Act of 2015 bill which is also picking up support from Democrats, including a majority of the 15-member Blue Dog Democrat coalition. Saying the House bill would “introduce unnecessary and impractical requirements” to the system, the White House issued a formal veto threat of a Republican-backed bill to strengthen the screening process for Syrian refugees.
At its core, the bill requires three top administration officials — the Secretary of Homeland Security,the Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the FBI — to personally verify that each Syrian refugee “is not a threat to the security of the United States.” Thursday USA Today reports the White House has rebuffed the verification provision saying that it “is untenable and would provide no meaningful additional security for the American people, instead serving only to create significant delays and obstacles.”
The White House used the strongest language it could muster in communicating its opinions on the pending legislation: “Given the lives at stake and the critical importance to our partners in the Middle East and Europe of American leadership in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis, if the president were presented with H.R. 4038, he would veto the bill.” True to form, the concern is always for the other guy. Earlier Wednesday in Manila, the Philippines, Obama mocked critics of his refugee policy, saying “they’re scared of widows and orphans.”
Not everyone is in agreement with the bill. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who chairs the Senate’s immigration subcommittee, said the House proposal “allows the president to continue to bring in as many refugees as he wants from anywhere in the world.” He added that he wouldn’t be satisfied with any system of vetting Syrian refugees. Raising the specter of another shutdown crisis as Congress must pass a new, long-term spending bill by Dec. 11, Sessions said the only way to attack the administration’s refugee policy was through cutting off its funding.
According to the Washington Times, House Republicans have scheduled a vote Thursday on a bill that would have required the Homeland Security, FBI and intelligence chiefs to sign off on every refugee. FBI Director James Comey earlier this year had said there were gaps in the databases that could hamstring background checks on the 10,000 refugees from Syria that Mr. Obama wants to resettle in the U.S. this year.
As always, there has to be a money angle. Conservative Republicans are looking at the vote on Thursday as the first step of a process that could stretch into the spending bill. “I’ll vote for it, but it will not achieve the goal of fixing the Syrian refugee problem,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R., Ala.) said of the bill. The “only strategy that has a chance of success” is to tie a policy change into the December spending bill, Mr. Brooks said.
Although Democrats have said they would resist any GOP efforts to include conservative policy measures in the spending bill, both parties would have a hard time opposing the Syrian refugee proposal and expect some to support the bill carrying it on Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also called for a “pause” in admitting Syrian refugees, but he hasn’t yet said whether the Senate would take up the bill, according to the Wall Street Journal.
A veto is only going to heighten suspicion on Capitol Hill, where Republicans and some Democrats say they don’t trust the current checks, which President Obama says are good enough.